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.
Recently, 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,