How to Get Through a Workday When The World's Falling Apart
The sniper attack in Dallas, the death of an innocent man in MN, the suicide bombings in Turkey, the mass shooting in Orlando—I could go on, but you probably don’t need me to remind you of all the terrible things going on in the world.
This isn’t an article about what’s right or wrong, it’s not about airport security, guns, or gun laws and it certainly isn’t about politics or which politician is tweeting what.
It’s about you.
When the weight of what you’ve seen and heard threatens to tear your heart in two, how can you possibly muster the enthusiasm for your 10 AM meeting or be expected to wrap your head around finishing that report by the end of the day?
Doesn’t it seem silly to dive right into the minutia of your daily work following such a major tragedy? Those hundred tiny things on your to-do list suddenly seem a whole lot tinier when the shadow of something horrible looms large. But you can’t just stop working. You’re not going to quit your job or abandon the career you’ve been building. So what do you do?
Here are three thoughts to help you cope.
1. Love Your Responsibilities
Guns. Crime. War. Disease. Terror. Drought. Refugees. And on, and on, and on.
There are a lot of soul-stirring things happening out there. They’re happening right now, they happened yesterday, and they’re probably going to happen tomorrow, too. Focusing on your day-to-day responsibilities when there’s major loss and sadness around you is challenging.
You may feel like you got bumped out of your groove. All you can see is a larger landscape, and with that point of view, it’s easy to feel like what you’re doing doesn’t really matter, or that if you do knuckle down and start ticking things off your to-do list, then you’re somehow missing the point or doing people who are suffering a disservice.
But having a job and a set of responsibilities isn’t incompatible with being a caring human being.
You have a 5 PM meeting to attend? Excellent. Love the fact that you get to turn up and do great work. Just been asked to take on a new project? Awesome. Now dive into it and relish the opportunity. Forced to hand-hold a colleague through a shared assignment? Perfect. How wonderful that you get to help someone and have an impact on their work.
Feeling, caring, and remembering don’t require that you stop everything else, and choosing to embrace and love your responsibilities rather than disconnect from them can be transformative.
2. Feed the Angels
Fear, pain, and anger are like locomotives barreling through you. Imposing and banging and crashing, these powerful emotions divert your attention away from the task at hand.
Applying yourself at work when there’s a steam train rolling through your head and over your heart isn’t easy, and buckling down so you can finish the deck probably seems downright trivial. Soon, you’re struggling to keep an even, calm demeanor.
Maybe you snap at a co-worker who asks you a question you deem dumb. Maybe you think “Fine, I’ll do it myself,” when something isn’t completed as you expected. And maybe you roll your eyes and rail against the small talk you hear in the cubicles and corridors.
But you don’t have to feed those things. You don’t have to stoke the furnace that drives bitterness, or misunderstanding, or judgment. What if, instead, you were at your best as a response to a terrible event?
Think generosity with time or spirit over armor-donning. Empathy over division. Compassion over judgment. Your best experiences at work have been the times when you were at your best, and don’t think for a moment that choosing to be this way now is an inappropriate response to something horrible.
Feed the angels, not the demons.
When all is said and done, you still have a job to do. I know, I know, moving numbers around in a spreadsheet or running a meeting about marketing strategy seems kind of ridiculous when compared with what’s out there. But it’s something. And having something solid to focus on in a world that seems to be shifting can help provide the balance that you so desperately seek.
Take a breath, and realize how lucky you are to be employed, to be alive and well, sitting in an office, getting paid to do work you care about (or at least, hopefully, don’t loathe). In the best case scenario, you’re surrounded by people who are good, decent human beings, and in the worst, you’ve got a work bff or a person to grab a cup of afternoon tea with. Take a look around, breath deeply, and consider how fortunate you are.
Some days you’ll still struggle to care a lot about the work in front of you when there’s so much else to think about. You may even (temporarily) view your job as insignificant based on what's happening in the world, and that’s OK, too. Letting yourself feel things and process is a part of getting back on track. Remember this: You’re allowed to slow down until you're ready to do more. And that doing your job isn’t incompatible with being a caring person who’s worried about what’s happening in the world.