Escaping The Rip Tide

From a mentor and friend, Alan Weiss, who I describe as BEYOND BRILLIANT. You can read about Alan and see some great articles at www.summitconsulting.com.

One morning I walked into my office and, in the next hour: lost my email connections, ran out of copier paper, ran low on toner in my printer, had a fax jam, ran out of money in the postage meter, spilled juice on my checkbook, and cut myself trying to fix my stapler.

I decided to leave, and went for coffee with the dogs.

There is an often-fatal beach phenomenon called a rip tide. It’s a narrow, violent undertow which drags people out to sea. If you swim against it, back toward the beach, you are quickly exhausted and perish.

However, you can escape the rip tide. Since they are very narrow, if you swim ten or twenty yards parallel to the beach for 20 yards or so, you will find yourself in calm water again. It’s counterintuitive, but it works.

If I had stayed in my office that morning, I’m sure the computer would have crashed or the roof would have collapsed. I was in a rip tide, probably enhanced by my own anger as one infuriating problem influenced me to act more hastily and ill-informed with the next (swimming against the tide).

So, I swam out, to the side, to calmer water, with a pleasant experience. I could have “drowned,” but I chose not to.

We all encounter personal and professional rip tides. It may be the fates, or bad luck, or others’ doing, but it’s usually simply an accidental confluence of unfortunate events which we, advertently or inadvertently, create and/or exacerbate.

(We all know how effective it is to throw something when we’re angry. It helps nothing and creates new problems. This is also the case when we “throw” words when we’re angry.)

There are clearly times when discretion is the better part of valor. We need to move away, to turn the page, to start something else. It is not a positive commentary on your courage, intelligence, or confidence to refuse to walk away from continuing disaster, nor is it a negative one to realize that you’re losing a battle and you don’t want to lose a war. I don’t know about you, but after a string of bad luck or bad decisions, the last thing I want to do is talk to an important client or make a key investment determination.

The vicissitudes of life are such that we’re all due for “runs” of positives and negatives, though they are more often judiciously mixed together. Those who visit casinos and have the benighted belief that they can create more runs of positives than anything else are due for inevitable failure, for we all know that the house never loses in the long run. There’s nothing wrong with attempting to exploit a positive run (it’s called “playing with house money”) and there’s nothing wrong with walking away from a negative run (it’s called “prudence”).

There’s no reason to elevate your stress level and blood pressure when the alternative of walking away exists. And for most of us, in most instances, it does exist.

So the next time you feel yourself being figuratively dragged out to sea, swim to the side, get back to the beach, and stay out of the water for a while. Read a good book or just relax in the sun.

All rip tides disappear eventually, usually sooner than later. Then it’s safe to go back into the water.

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