The struggle is real, but how to respond?
Most find ourselves in uncomfortable situations from time to time. How we handle our reactions on such occasions counts for a lot in determining how we come out the other side.
Millions of years of evolution have honed our instincts — our reflexes tell us to escape the situation if we can, or fight our way out if we can’t. When I’ve felt frustrated or fearful about my predicament I’ve searched for other options — the stark reality is that there are rarely other alternatives available.
Maybe we’re in the midst of something that we’ve long anticipated with fear or dread. We knew it was going to be tough, emotionally testing or just plain unpleasant and our worst fears have come true. It sucks.
In that moment all we want is out. Our instinct is to flee but often that’s not possible. Try explaining your actions to your boss as you escape giving a presentation by running from the room, or ditching a date because they self-described as an 8 out of 10 for looks and personality but they’re a charitable 2 at best.
Most stop short of running out of a sense of decency. Physical aggression is seldom a realistic option either.
Whether the situation has crept up on us, we anticipated it or it’s blind-sided us, it amounts to the same thing. We want something different. We want to be somewhere else.
There are really only three possible ways out of any adversity:
- To remove ourselves from the situation;
- To change the situation by taking action;
- To accept it as it is and to move on with life.
If you were hoping for something more insightful and revelatory then you may be disappointed. Or perhaps it’s a useful and timely reminder that like most good guiding principles of life, this one is both simple and effective.
To Remove Yourself from the Situation — Flight
Most parents will likely have counselled their kids on what to do if confronted by a bully. Depending on their own upbringing and past experiences most parents will advise their kids to calmly walk away or to stay and fight their corner as a last resort. As someone who has never raised a fist in anger, I favour the former.
The simplest option is always to extract ourselves from a situation if it’s unpleasant. We may be called a quitter or a coward, but the simple rule of flight is that we live to fight another day.
Whether we’re trying to escape an abusive relationship or leave a job we can no longer tolerate, our goal is to escape as soon as possible. We’ve likely tried all we can to improve things, to build tolerance or to figure out how it can be made to work through change or compromise. The only option that remains is to construct and enact our exit plan.
It seems to me that this is the option that most-often gets ignored, or worse, executed poorly. Too often we just accept situations that would have been best left long ago.
- We suffer endlessly in relationships that have become toxic, abusive or dominated by apathy and passive-aggression.
- We stagnate in jobs that we’ve come to hate but which we’re fearful to leave in case we make things worse. We remain caught in the money trap.
- We resign ourselves to living in a body that will gradually become flabbier, more unfit and injury-prone when we give up on exercise and eating healthily.
- We kid ourselves we’ve learned all we could ever need to know, and neglect our brain in adulthood. Instead of reading we waste hours binge-watching Netflix and doom-scrolling on our smartphones.
We know we hate the situation, but persuade ourselves that we have no option but to stay. The sunk cost fallacy prevails. Apathy and inertia compound matters.
As bad as forgoing the option to leave is to leave in a flamboyant and flippant way. I’ve left my job on a whim, quitting in a moment of passion and anger only to later regret it when I lost my income and couldn’t find a new job quickly.
Choosing flight may well be the right and inevitable option. It’s smart though to formulate a careful plan for doing so and to then follow that plan to the letter.
To Change the Situation and Take Action — Fight
Some parents counsel their kids that the only option when faced by a bully is to strike-hard and strike-first. On occasions, I suspect I should’ve taken this active and forthright approach rather than being passive.
To fight is more than to raise fists in anger. It means to face up to the problem and take action to address it. I can think of few better options in most situations than to actually try and do something to change things we don’t like.
In a failing relationship, you’d want to feel like you’d done everything in your power to try and make it work before eventually giving it up if that were the only remaining option? Faced with leaving a job most of us would want to have explored all options for improving the situation before having to go through with quitting.
When I procrastinate over action, I’m merely delaying the inevitable pain of getting started or admitting defeat. Both seem daunting but the only real option is to take action and see what happens.
The seemingly insurmountable goal of turning around our health is accomplished by one workout and one healthy decision at a time, not by giving up because it seems impossible or quitting before we’ve started. A loving relationship is founded in regular, small-but-consistent kindnesses and gestures of affection. A successful career emerges through many productive days of work strung together, interspersed with the inevitable difficult days where we’ve carried on regardless.
Action is necessary if we want to fight to improve our situation. Action alone might not improve the situation but we cannot know until we’ve tried. To fight is to act.
To accept the way things are
The final option is to accept the situation wholeheartedly — not to be confused with the begrudging acceptance of a miserable situation out of apathy or inertia.
When we truly accept what we cannot change, we rationalise that while things may not be ideal or as we’d like them, we know they can’t be changed. Through genuine acceptance, we not only resign ourselves to how things are, but we embrace the situation and seek to make the best of it.
As a proud father to four healthy kids my greatest comfort is to know that they are all fit, well and happy — yet I know many parents whose kids don’t enjoy those same blessings. I feel great admiration for all such parents, but especially the ones who throw themselves wholeheartedly into giving their kids the best life possible in spite of the mental, emotional or physical challenges that their kids face.
They do so with joy, love and a whole-hearted acceptance of their and their kids’ situations. Naturally, they face difficult days but they ride these out like everyone else. No doubt they hate that their kids suffer, but they accept it and they live the best life they can regardless.
That is true and genuine acceptance of a challenging situation.
Our circumstances may be far from ideal, but it doesn’t prevent us from accepting the situation. Action may be a necessary part of enduring the situation, just to keep our heads above water. Escaping the situation isn’t even entertained as an option.
Genuine, deep acceptance is the solution alone and in its own right.
As I reflect on times of adversity that I’ve faced in life, it seems that these really are the only options that we can entertain— both the life-changing moments or the day-to-day adversities that we all face; to leave, to act or to accept.
My personal bias is towards action wherever possible but I acknowledge that this sometimes comes at the expense of acceptance. I am often too keen to leap forwards to find or implement a solution to life’s problems. A little contemplation and consideration of acceptance might be a better solution.
And sometimes the right option is flight. To walk away. To release and to forget.