Finding Your Calm

I don’t sail. In fact, I’m rarely on any boat, so I don’t know much about the nautical life other than what I see in movies. But I remember talking to a guy who had his own 40-foot sailboat, and I asked him how scary it was when the weather kicked up and the swells turned nasty.

“It makes you a better sailor,” he said. “Navigating through a storm can scare the hell out of you, but when it calms back down and the sea becomes like glass, you realize why you love it so much. It makes the choppy stuff worth it.”

Hang on, because I’m about to steal his observation and apply it to your job.

Ever go through a stretch of work where it feels like you’re about to capsize? No matter how much metaphorical water you bail out of your boat, you feel like more is rushing in, and you’ll never keep up.

I sometimes have those feelings, often because of self-imposed stress brought on by juggling multiple careers at one time. There are times when I think I need to abandon ship and take my chances overboard.

But then something happens, something to steer me back into calm water. And many times it’s the simplest thing.

Recently I went through a stretch like that, where the tension mounted and the fun seemed hard to come by. Most of the pressure was centered on some tough days at the radio station, a very competitive, stressful business on good days.

Then it happened. Our team from the morning show hosted a happy hour gathering for listeners, and we visited face-to-face with people who each have their own story. At the end of the evening a very nice listener named Mary handed me her business card. On the back she’d written: “Thank you for all you do. You make people smile.”

And voila! The clouds parted, the storm abated, and the seas grew calm.

I think the universe knows when we need a Mary to stroll in and remind us of why we do what we do. We get caught up in the (often) silly problems that magnify in cartoonish ways, until we lose sight of what really matters. We steer into storms instead of out of them.

You might have tough issues in your own job right now, maybe even a build-up of tension that seems ready to blow at any time. So my advice is: Find your Mary. Put yourself in a position where you can actually speak to the people who use your product or services, and let them talk. Yes, some will use the opportunity to growl; hell, some people are natural grumps. (Just look at Facebook comments.)

But if you’re open and available, there’s a good chance someone will remind you of what made you choose that path in the first place. Someone will - as the sailboat captain told me - “make the choppy stuff worth it.” For me it was four simple words: You make people smile.

Couldn’t have come at a better time, since I’d misplaced my own for a while.

EssaysDom TestaComment