The Old Lady in the Freezer

panic buttonBack between 2005 and 2009 I taught quite a few military-to-civilian transition classes up at Fort Meade in Maryland.  Since the traffic was horrendous, I’d leave my house really early and arrive on base at 6:30 AM.  Class didn’t start until 8 so I had some time to kill.  Most mornings I would drive to the Class 6 Shoppette (a gas station that sold groceries and alcohol) to get my Red Bull and a 5-Hour Energy shot.

One morning I was in the Shoppette and heard a woman’s muffled screams coming from the back of the store.  I went back there and saw an old lady in the beer cooler.  She was pounding on the door trying to get out.  I grabbed the handle and opened the door.  She hugged me and said I saved her life.

Then she asked me, “How did you manage to get in here?”

I told her I just pulled the handle.  She told me that she was desperately pulling the handle from the inside.  I guess she didn’t realize she had to push it.  The harder she pulled, the more stuck she became.  Then she panicked and when she did, she thought she was trapped.

I never forgot about that old lady in the freezer.  Some of us are a lot like her.  When trouble comes, we panic and when we do, we do some dumb things.

Today I got an unsolicited email from a gentleman wanting work as a proposal manager:

Good afternoon,
I am available immediately, and have a lot to contribute to your organization.
I have extensive experience in government proposal development.
Recently came off a four month effort, rested a bit, and I’m available immediately.
Also, recently responded to 8(a)Stars, Sources Sought, and IDIQ submissions.
I’m looking for full time or contract work – rates TBD.
My resume is attached for your consideration and phone review.
The pleasure of a reply is appreciated.  Call or write.
Thank you.

He attached his resume to this email.

Now of course he has no idea about what I do so how would he know he has anything to contribute to my organization?  When I read it, I thought of the old lady in the freezer.  Desperation makes you do dumb things, like shotgun a resume to as many email addresses as you can find.

And yet we’ve all been in the same predicament, haven’t we?  Stressed, facing a deadline, needing resources and having lots at stake.  How can we prevent ourselves from looking desperate and also solve our problem?  Here are some suggestions.

  1. Take a deep breath.  Yeah I know this is somewhat of a cliché, but taking a deep breath causes oxygen to flow to our brain.  Your solutions will start in your brain so don’t starve it!  Take a deep breath (or several) and focus on the solution.
  2. Take charge of your self talk.  Start speaking rational language rather than emotional language to yourself.  When you do that, move on to steps 3 and 4.
  3. What is worst case scenario?  It may seem like a stress-increaser but if you at least own what could happen, you know where your solutions need to focus.
  4. What is the most likely scenario?  This is where your thinking brain has to override the emotional one.  Emotions will push you towards worst case scenario but the rational side of you should look at the most likely scenario.  Often this is far better than you can imagine, but you won’t know that if you’re pulling the handle in the freezer rather than pushing it.
  5. Find yourself a support team.  Facing an ominous scenario alone is like finding yourself in a bar fight against four other people.  You need backup!  At least find someone you can call to bounce ideas off.  They might be able to give you a suggestion or point you to a resource.
  6. Take one positive first step towards solution.  Don’t worry about the huge problem.  Focus on just one small step.  It will give you confidence and move you closer to the bigger problem. “One step, one punch, one round at a time.” (Rocky Balboa to Adonis Creed).
  7. Finally, remember Satchel Page’s famous words “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”  Or pulling on the handle.  Or shotgunning your resume to everyone with a pulse and an email address.

None of us are going to be exempt from a crisis but how we handling it well gives us confidence for the next one and gains us a huge amount of respect from the people around us.  Take a deep breath and think about that this week…

 

 

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