How to Get Back in the Saddle When You’ve Been Thrown Off

2014 - 07.17 - #13  Getting back into saddle-mounting

It happens to all of us: we lose our seat and get thrown from the saddle. Maybe we get bad news about a friend, a project we wanted to do is canceled, a promotion doesn’t happen, or our kid gets in trouble.

Hitting the ground is never fun.

And sometimes we get bucked off. That really hurts. We learn that we’re losing a job, a marriage has died, a relationship is over, or our company is closing. We hit hard.

Four years ago a big black gelding bucked me to the ground, a horse that I should never have bought. I lay sprawled in the sand arena, chest heaving. Fortunately, I didn’t break any bones. I hobbled home, collapsed on the coach and called my husband, spending the next two days with ice and ibuprofen while I slowly started thinking about what to do next.

2014 - 07.17 - #13  Getting back into saddle - on groundRecently, I was bucked off again when I learned that I did not win a big contract proposal I submitted. I was thunder-struck. My clients liked my work, my proposal was first rate – and after doing the work for 22 years, I knew it better than anyone else. But sometimes life throws us a curve, and a competitor had come in with a very low-ball bid.

And there I was on my back again in some deep emotional sand.

At first I was numb. Speechless. I couldn’t believe what had happened.

Then I started asking: how do we get back in the saddle when life throws us off?

Here’s what I found can help:

1) Call someone right away who cares. That could be a good friend, partner, or spouse. You don’t want to deal with this alone, especially when you’re in shock.

2) Check for broken bones. Take a quick material assessment. Yes, you’re in emotional shock – but is there anything else you have to deal with right away (like calling your lawyer)? If not, this is probably a good time to chill.

3) Go slow. Do the next simple step that’s in front of you – like pulling up your socks. Don’t try to do much. Just keep going. (Don’t tell your agent to sell the house!)

4) Make a list of immediate pleasurable things you can do for yourself. For me it was:

  • Take a walk.
  • Buy flowers.
  • Snuggle with the cat.
  • Buy and eat a big box of blueberries (I’m a fanatic).
  • Take some photos (kept me focused outside of myself).

Avoid doing things that you’ll regret tomorrow (like eating two cartons of Haagen-Dazs) but if you do overdose – forgive yourself immediately. Life has hit you hard enough!

5) Get ready to feel whatever comes up. This is the hard part. You may feel numb and want to stay numb. But feelings will eventually come and you want to let them – maybe not at your staff meeting, but as soon as you get home.

You may feel many things – fear, sadness, numbness, depression, anger, and even joy (I did). This is where a good friend (see point #1) can help. Who likes to feel anger? (I don’t!) You’ll pay a price (like an accident?) for stuffing down difficult feelings. I’ve discovered that when I feel like my heart is breaking with gut-wrenching emotions, it’s probably just getting stronger.

6) Tell your inner circle. OK, it might feel embarrassing to share bad news, but this is a good time to practice receiving support and working your vulnerability muscle. Pick the friends who know how to be there for you. They don’t know want you to hide.

7) Reframe your experience to keep from being a victim. I told myself:

  • I submitted an excellent proposal, and did quality work until the end.
  • Losing to a low-bid was not a reflection on me.
  • After 22 years on this project, I was ready to move on.
  • New space was now available for creative projects and key endeavors.

I wasn’t being Pollyanna! I wasn’t pretending that there weren’t still financial consequences and fears to feel. I just wasn’t a victim!

8) When you’re out of shock, assess the tangible consequences. What will you need to do? Are there real risks? Stuff to handle? Changes to make? Be kind. Don’t deprive yourself or force too much analysis when your bones are still hurting.

9) Be grateful for the journey – and use what you’ve learned to deepen your story. Real heroic stories always have bumps and challenges. Failures add drama to our story and depth to our character.

When I was bucked off my horse, my confidence was creamed for a while. I hurt for months. I had to sell the gelding. But life moves us on. Now, four years later, I watch as Mariah, my sensible, personable, smaller mare walks across the field to greet me, and all I can feel is gratitude. I bet in six months, I’ll feel the same way about the lost contract!

Wishing you all the best,


Take a vision day



This year I am starting 2014 with a Vision Day.

Most of the year, I’m simply swamped with so much doing. It’s hard to pull away from the report that needs to be written, the class that needs to be planned and—always—so many emails.  But sometimes I just have to STOP and remember what it’s all about. A Vision Day helps me do that.

A Vision Day is an opportunity to focus, for one day, on the big picture, and to refuel my inspiration for work.

It’s an opportunity, especially at the turn of the year, to review where I’ve been over the past year and dream about where I want to go.

Vision Day is my opportunity to unplug from the urgencies and distractions of the day-to-day demands of a consulting practice and to concentrate on what is “important but not urgent”, in Steven Covey’s words. As a solo-preneur, I don’t get sent off on corporate retreats – if I want to retreat, I need to plan it for myself.

Let day-to-day demands wait

The demands of day-to-day business can wait one day. Vision Day is my day to think, take a walk with my journal in hand, watch the clouds pass (or the Northwest rains pour), savor long cups of tea, and reflect on what really matters and how that applies to where my business (and life) is going.  And, as the spirit moves me, I’ll envision the next year and begin to plan.

But forget the spreadsheets, timelines and metrics.  A Vision Day is a time to access the deeper sources of inspiration and to rekindle the spark from which my best planning comes.  Unless, of course, my inspiration takes me in the direction of action planning or my next blog.   (No need to be rigid!)  On Vision Day, I follow my nose, and let my footsteps lead me to what inspires my creative juices.


I love to take Vision Day during the holidays. Some years ago, during the days after Christmas, I took a lot of time to reflect on the purpose of my work – inside and outside of the university for which I worked.  I sat still, contemplated, meditated, listened. I did not try to “be productive.”

Be prepared to be surprised!

During one of my long reflections, I surprised myself.  An inner voice announced that my next job was to design and launch an innovative graduate program in management, one that would be designed as a learning community.  YIKES!  You’ve got to be kidding, I thought. That wasn’t in my plans!  But the message was clear.

When the Muse Speaks, Listen

I had asked a question about my purpose and received an answer.  The next step had to be action. I retreated to my desk and typed up a vision for this new program.

Three days later, the University President was in town and I presented him with the idea for the program.  The timing was perfect—he gave it his blessings.  I spent the next six years developing and running a very creative university program—with the best people I could imagine—all as a result of an afternoon of deep reflection.

Pick the right place

Northwest path through the trees

Place matters. On Vision Day, I want to be in a spot that inspires me and puts me in a mood of gratitude and reflection, such as a retreat center, a forest, the beach, a long ferry ride, or a great café. When I lived in Seattle, a 25 minute trip to Brusseau’s café in Edmonds, Washington was enough to send me into another world. If I were living again in New York City, I would choose to walk the Highline Garden with a notebook in my hand, or hang out in a beautiful hotel lobby or sit in the atrium of the old Citicorps building.  If I pick a place with the wrong vibe, I find another. It’s a special day for me, so I want the energy to be right.

This year, my home on this beautiful island feels like a retreat center, so I may take a walk around a forested pond and then curl up in my writing cabin.  I’m thinking about reviewing some of my recent journals and looking at books I keep in my cabin for inspiration.  My challenge will be to turn off my email and tell my husband that I’ll be “out of commission” for a while.

Then I’ll dial up the Muse – and listen.






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