Our jobs, and our days, naturally have ups and downs: moments that are more intense and stressful mixed in with our comfortable steady state.
These intense moments might be caused by things like:
A client who is upset, demanding, or irrational.
A sales prospect who changes her mind at the last minute.
A piece of code that suddenly stops working
A colleague who is having personal struggles.
A conflict about something important, where neither side shows a willingness to give.
For some people, the heightened state of awareness caused by stress, emotion, and conflict is what they need to perform. Whether it’s an external deadline or interpersonal strife, these folks respond to hard-core external stimuli by drowning out all distraction and do their best work.
But most of us don’t thrive when faced with big external stressors. Emotional ups and downs have real costs, both in terms of the quality of our work and impact on our well-being.
Of course, there are things we can do to minimize how often these difficult things happen. We can fire the bad clients; build a business based on repeat sales; plan and test well when building new features; bring in external experts to support colleagues who struggle; and do group work to invest in solving conflicts productively.
But, try as we might to minimize this hard(er) moments, we cannot eliminate them entirely. As in:
A certain number of clients is going to be difficult.
A certain number of sales will blow up near the finish line.
A certain amount of the software we write will go sideways unexpectedly.
A certain percentage of our teammates will go through struggles.
A certain proportion of professional disagreements will end up in pitched battles.
Indeed, these hard moments are a feature of our lives, not bugs. They arrive with predictable regularity, and, therefore, their presence in our day should not be surprising.
And, if they are not surprising, and they happen with some regularity, at some point we must ask ourselves an essential question:
Do we have to ride the emotional wave?
Experiencing these difficult moments fully, remaining present, and engaging completely, is not the same thing as riding that wave.
So, unless riding it helps us in some way, we might consider letting the emotions wash over us while we stand tall and do our best work.
Just because the situation gets heated doesn’t mean that we have to sweat.