911! Six Tips to Triage Your Work+Life Fit When Thrown a Curveball

What do you do when an event comes out of left field and lays waste to your carefully planned work+life fit?  This is the question I discussed with my friend, radio host Maggie Mistal, when I appeared on her “Making a Living” program last Friday.

Life recently threw Maggie a curveball when her newborn son arrived two months early while she and her husband were on vacation.  Now, they are living and working temporarily from another city until their son is able to travel back home.

At some point, most of us will deal with a sudden change in circumstances.  My most recent curveball happened five years ago when my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. Immediately your priorities shift.  How do you triage and rethink your goals, your schedule, and your responsibilities both at work and in the other parts of your life?  Here are some of the tips that Maggie and I discussed during the show:

Remember that curveball events typically have three distinct phases:

  1. The initial crisis—You are just making it through minute-by-minute
  2. The holding pattern—The crisis has passed, but the situation has yet to resolve itself or settle into a new reality.  You’re operating less minute-by-minute and more day-by-day.  And finally, you will move into…
  3. The post-curveball reality—You’re clearer about what your work capacity will be going forward and you’ve regained some level of control over the other parts of your life.

Try not to fall into all-or-nothing thinking, and avoid making a rash decision to quit.

Especially, during the crisis phase, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  You start to think “I can’t deal with this and work at the same time.”  Even I had this reaction when I got the news about my mother.  But thankfully I pulled myself back from the edge, and took a breath.

While quitting may seem like the only choice at the moment, it may not be the best answer.  First of all, most of us need the money.  Secondly, you may be surprised to find that work is a welcome distraction especially when you move into the holding pattern.  Try not to make any major work or life related decisions until the crisis period passed.

Be honest with your boss, team, clients, friends, and family.

99% of the people in your life will be understanding and supportive at least in the crisis phase and early stages of the holding pattern.  In terms of how much you share, both Maggie and I agree that you should tailor the information to your audience.  However, in my experience, managers, clients and team members appreciate simple, consistent updates.  This is especially true once you move into the holding pattern period, and you can start actively testing your capacity for more work.

Unfortunately, 1% of the people in your life won’t be able to show up for you emotionally or physically—let it go.   Don’t expend the extra energy you don’t have now.  File away the lack of support and, if you need to, deal with it later.  A woman who called into Maggie’s show talked about how unhelpful the president of her company was when she needed time during the adoption of her child. But she waited until after the adoption was completed to quit and get a new job.

Gather your resources.  You don’t need to handle the curveball experience all by yourself.

This is especially difficult for people who are used to being in control.  Regardless, you need to let others help you.

Perhaps there’s a work colleague that you respect who can take on some of your responsibilities.  Delegate “to dos” to your family members and friends who’ve offered to pitch in.  I can never repay the group of women in my town that provided meals to my family three nights a week for the last few months of my mother’s life.  But I will confess, initially, I refused because I didn’t want to be a bother.  It took my friend Nola saying, “Shut up, Cali.  They’re coming whether you like it or not,” to make it happen.  And it was a godsend.

Also, if you work for a company that offers work+life benefits and leaves, use them.  Remember the Families Medical Leave Act doesn’t have to be taken all at once.  It can be used over time in small chunks.

Once you’ve move into the holding pattern phase, begin to test your capacity for taking on more work but be patient.

Your priorities will continue to shift and change.  See what you can and cannot comfortably take on.  Perhaps it will help to be more creative and flexible in how, when and where you work.  For example, on Friday, Maggie broadcast her show remotely from Florida, while I sat in her New York studio.  You wouldn’t have known the difference.    When my mother had cancer, I often worked remotely from the hospital.

Build in even small moments of wellness.

This is so important yet can be incredibly hard, especially in the crisis phase.  But once you’ve moved into a holding pattern, gather your resources and use them to find time to care for yourself.  Take a 30 minute walk outside.  Try to get a good night sleep.  Eat at least one healthy meal a day.

Again, think small steps taken consistently so you aren’t overwhelmed.  The goal is not just functioning at your best during the curveball event.  You want to emerge from the experience as strong as possible and ready to move forward in the post-curveball reality.

Has life ever thrown you a curveball that’s made you triage your work+life fit?  What helped you reset your work and personal responsibilities and goals when your priorities changed overnight?

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