“You're playing and you think everything is going fine. Then
one thing goes wrong. And then another. And another. You
try to fight back, but the harder you fight, the deeper you sink.
Until you can't move... you can't breathe... because you're
in over your head. Like quicksand.”
---Shane Falco (Keanu Reeves) on “The Replacements
No matter how optimistic you think you are, no matter how much you look at the glass as half-full, and no matter how rosy your glasses are, bad days are bound to happen. In fact, I would venture to say that if nothing ever goes wrong in your life, you are not living a very full life at all. Living a full life involves taking chances, and calculated risks, but when you do take those chances, there is always a probability of error. The difference between long-term success and long-term failure is how you respond to the setbacks you face.
Here is a quick suggested guideline on how you might most quickly weather the metaphorical storms of your life, and even end up on higher ground after everything settles:
1) Do you have an umbrella? This morning as you were getting ready for work, the weatherman called for monsoon conditions, but you were not listening; all proud of your brand new suit you were going to wear to impress the boss. When you stepped outside, it was a beautiful morning, so why not walk… The exercise is good for you, and its just a mile or two to the office! Halfway along your walk, the skies open up! You are being drenched! Oh man, you didn’t need this today!!! Priority #1 is key: how quickly can you stop getting wet? We can’t stop the rain, but we can choose how we respond to it. If you have an umbrella, this is a quick, easy, temporary solution. If you don’t have an umbrella though, you still have a real problem that needs immediate attention, and improvisation is essential! Get into the nearest building, car, taxi, or other permanent structure, so you would have at least a temporary solution to your problem, right? When faced with a problem, the best first step is to figure out how to at least temporarily fix the problem. While the shortest term solution may not fix the entire problem, it will offer you the ability to focus on a stable and strong long-term solution.
2) What caused my storm? This is not always comfortable to identify. Evaluating our own missteps can be uncomfortable and frustrating. If you checked the weather on the internet, radio, or tv, you may have driven to work, brought an umbrella, or taken some other evasive maneuver. So many times we let ourselves get caught in life storms that were at least minimally predictable. Keep an eye down the road of life. While dealing with the “boring stuff” today may not be ideal, think of the long-term benefits. Fixing a worn part of the roof during the sunshine may be more expensive than we would have liked, and not a whole lot of fun… (besides, its not really a hole. I will fix it when it becomes more serious). We all have these worn spots in the houses of our lives. They may be interpersonal relationships, finances, medical concerns, or whatever is loitering in your mind while you read this. Here is the thing… it is easier, quicker, and far less expensive to do quality repairs before the storm hits, exacerbating previously minor problems. So once you figure out what caused your storm, we need to focus on fixing it. Don’t beat yourself up, just figure out why it’s raining, how hard its raining, and how we can most easily and quickly get dry and cleaned up! You might need to bring in experts to help you, but if it helps you fix the problem, it is money well-spent. The point of figuring out where the problem stems from is not for purposes of assigning blame; but rather to figure out what the root problem that needs doctoring. Once you clearly know and understand what the most obvious problem is, you can work to repair it. After you get past the obvious problems, you may find other issues beneath the surface. This is great! Fix them now, if you can, before they have the opportunity to cause their own problems!
3) Shelter yourself until the storm passes. This does not mean you need to ignore the problem until it goes away. It means you need to protect the most important people in your life. It’s not your family’s fault that you got wet. This is important to remember! When in the throes of a bad day, it is easy to lash out at others. Just because you are feeling overly sensitive, does not give you license to prop yourself up by stepping on the necks of the people you most love. For whatever reason, we find it easiest to verbally abuse the people we really love the most. If it is our storm cloud, we have a responsibility to screw on a smile when dealing with others. Taking out your bad mood on people not responsible for your problems is only going to get them defensive around you, and exacerbate your already bad day. And if a person you love is also partially responsible for your storm cloud, you still have an obligation to deal with the person in a way that is fair to both sides. Saying or doing things that will intentionally incite the other person just so you can have the upper hand is manipulative, cruel, and just plain wrong. If you have a close friend or sympathetic spouse that will let you vent, that is ideal; but don’t abuse them just because you are not happy at the moment. Simply dealing with your frustrations by kicking the dog will probably result in Rover biting you. Not only will you deserve the bite, but that will just bring more storm clouds as you now have to undo even more problems! The bad day will pass, I promise. If you can’t control your emotions or your tongue, remove yourself from the situation. While that may still be rude, and may lead to other problems down the road, lashing out in anger causes even more long-term problems. Remember, one second’s demeaning comment to your spouse, child, co-worker, or peer, can cause a lifetime of pain for that person, and awkwardness between you and them. Moreover, words are very powerful, and frequently more powerful to the recipient than the speaker. Not only is it impossible to un-hear negativity, it is not fair to throw someone you love into their own rainstorm just because you are having a bad day.
4) Build a permanent structure. After things have settled a little, and you feel like you can breathe again, now its time to work on preventing your storm from returning. So many of our problems are caused by our own actions, or inactions. The trick is to learn from our mistakes. Learn your lesson, but don’t wallow in your misery one second longer than necessary! Sometimes, when we are drenched in the storm of a problem, it is easy to torture ourselves. “If I had only done…” Okay, well playing the what-if game is a waste of time right now, and it is simply too late for resolving the problem yesterday. So after your problem has been rectified, or at least slowed, immediately start working on a long-term solution- ESPECIALLY if you already know what that solution is! Again, this may be a financial issue, relationships with loved ones or peers, or even your health. Take the time to take care of your biggest issues first. And if you find there are a number of aspects in your life in need of more permanent structures, sit down and figure out your priorities. To me, health should always be the top of the list. If you don’t have that, the rest of the list just doesn’t matter nearly as much (but that is just my opinion). If you have a family, make this a family event. Your storms are your family’s storms too. And if you have issues that you are concerned about, make sure everyone feels comfortable moving forward. The comfort of having a plan of attack on life offers its own long-term stability; when things get rocky, you can always go back to the plan.
5) What caused the storm? The storm has passed. You are breathing easier now. The best thing to do now is to sit back and take a real inventory. Take the time to really figure out what caused all the problems. Not every storm is an emergency of epic proportions, but they all have their own factors that need to be honestly examined. This can be the hardest part. What did you do to contribute to the storm, for good or for bad; and how could you have avoided the storm in the first place. Sometimes, the storm was inevitable. That happens. Still, there is always some lesson to be learned. Take the lesson. Internalize the lesson. Gain the knowledge. Then, most importantly, dismiss the pain. Pain, anger, and negative energy is utterly toxic, and if you allow yourself to marinate in negativity, it can envelop your entire being. Negativity draws storm clouds. Happiness is a choice, and sometimes it is a difficult choice to figure out, but in the long run, your life will be stronger for it.
It may sound strange to hear, but if you learn how to manage your setbacks, instead of letting the setbacks steer your own life, you will find that the major life challenges you keep facing become far easier to manage. Of course problems will still show up. Even people with the most mundane lives have challenges (sometimes more). And yes, taking chances sometimes has negative results to it, but when risks pay off, they can be huge! Seize your life, you only get one shot at it. Even when things go badly, managed properly, your life will be richer than it was before. Knowledge does not come to us easily, but it enriches and fulfills our lives.
Don’t be afraid of bad days. They are great learning opportunities, if you make sure you are learning from the experience.
Wayne Brown is the founder of Acromegaly Community; a group focused on patient advocacy, and was the lead writer for the collaborative book Alone in My Universe: Struggling with an Orphan Disease in an Unsympathetic World. He can be reached at
Good luck, and I hope this makes your day better!