When Things Are Bad, Take the Medium View and Save Your Sanity
One of my closest friends is an incredibly sane, well-adjusted, brilliant, hard-working, hilarious woman. Why she continues to associate with me is one of life's great mysteries. But she's magnanimous and has been by my side through the ups and downs of law school (which was mostly good), and the insanity of law firm life (which was mostly not). She's juggled the demands of a marriage, children, an intense job, and the other elements of a well-rounded life with astounding grace. And she's still one of the coolest and most likable people out there. Several years ago, she gave me one of the best pieces of advice that I've ever received, which I'd like to share with you.
She presented it differently, but the core of it has stayed with me. It's so simple, it's crazy: you can't assess how things are going in increments smaller than six months. And that was all she really said about it. But it's so brilliant! At the time, I was complaining about how I was being lent to another practice group at my firm, and instead of being treated like a valued member of a team, I was being treated as nothing more than a warm body who was supposed to be billing 12 hours a day. It was demoralizing to say the least.
True to form, I had started catastrophizing. Will I ever feel smart again? Will I ever work on a meaningful assignment again? Will I ever again work with an associate or partner who realizes what I'm actually capable of? Are all my weekends from now until 2024 going to be spent on the phone with the document production vendor? Yes, I was being very annoying.
My friend, ever the sage, casually told me to give it six months until we were in the next phase of the litigation. So many things can happen between now and then, it's not worth getting worked up about anything until you see the longer arc of the story.
It was good advice at the time, and has served me even better ever since. Like many of you, I'm assuming, I'm a competitive person. I like to achieve. I like to grow. And if I'm not improving, I feel like I'm descending into the hell of mediocrity. See? I like to catastrophize. It's not a good look. And it causes way more stress than is healthy.
I've found that taking the medium view is one of the best and easiest ways to cope with any difficult situation. In today's social media culture, we're constantly exposed to people's victories and snippets of their best lives. This can make us feel like we always need to be at the pinnacle of perfection in terms of work, health, and glam vacationing. But that's just not true.
Taking the medium view doesn't require radical acceptance or positivity. It doesn't require prophetic enlightenment. The beauty of it is that it doesn't require you to do anything. In fact, it specifically requires you to do nothing. I don't know about you, but I'm all in favor of something that places exactly zero demands on me.
As I've discussed in a previous post, the last six months have been really difficult for me. My natural tendency is to assume that because my health is bad now, I'll never be a healthy person again. Because I'm not able to work out now, I'll never be able to work out again. Because I spend all my time chasing after a little human who loves to pinch me and poop on me, I'll never again be engaged in a civilized human relationship. But that just doesn't make any sense!
My life started becoming trash this summer, and I gave myself an internal deadline of January to decide whether my life was actually a Russian tragedy or whether this cluster of challenges was just an unpleasant phase. As I get older, I realize how quickly six months passes. Six months ago, Theo couldn't even walk and now he's basically running up and down stairs.
My best advice is this: When things are bad, have patience with yourself. Realize that life is long. Six months is a blip in the grand scheme of your existence, but is probably long enough to let things play out and reveal the truth of your circumstances. Try to avoid catastrophizing, as tempting as it may be. And once half a year has passed, you can assess whether you need to make changes with a level head and a good dose of perspective.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments!
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