How to Navigate Turbulence in Life

It felt like a category five hurricane was kicking off outside as we began to experience severe turbulence on a recent flight to Bali.

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t phase me. I’m good with flying. But the turbulence I’m used to is at 30,000 feet. And we weren’t at 30,000 feet. We were in a jet plane that felt like one of those flight simulator thingy’s you’d find at Disneyland that goes batshit, and we were rocketing towards our descent.

So it did phase me.

I looked around at other passengers to sense the mood. There was definitely concern in the air.

Some were reciting their Hail Mary. Others looked like they would shit themselves.

In amongst the commotion, I began thinking to myself, “fuck, maybe I should panic?”

But that almost never works.

And even if we were headed for a crash landing, what could I do about it?

Our faith lay in the hands of the pilot. And while the passengers may have been concerned, I have no doubt it was business as usual in the cockpit.

After all, they’ve had extensive training. The pilots were within their comfort zone. Us passengers were not.

Within comfort is predictability. Outside of comfort is uncertainty. And we don’t like that. We perceive it as unpredictable, scary, and something which should be avoided.

If the oxygen masks dropped and the pilots were to come on the intercom and say, “eh, we don’t know what we’re doing here,” the passengers would be pushed so far beyond their comfort zone that Lufthansa would have played host to their very fist shitting fiasco!

I think what I am trying to say is that turbulence comes in varying degrees of severity with equally varying degrees of consequence.

We all go through Turbulence in life. It can’t be avoided.

The more experience you have with turbulence, the better you’ll become at managing it, and therefore, the better your life will be.

On the other hand, continuously trying to avoid or deny it will only give rise to more turbulence.

For some, it’s minor. For others, it’s major. But at some stage, regardless of how good you have it, you’re going to encounter some shit.

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It’s what we do during this turbulence which counts. That’s what can make or break us. Our behaviour dictates whether we make it out safely or not.

Most of us do ok with a little turbulence.

However, few receive sufficient training to deal with severe turbulence. So, when the shit hits the fan, we go into panic mode, become irrational, and — as a result — make things a whole lot worse for ourselves.

If our pilot hadn’t received adequate training, he may have panicked, and in doing so, greatly increase the likelihood of a crash landing. But he had received sufficient training. So he remained calm and we touched down safely.

Metaphorically speaking, it’s really no different when it comes to the mind.

We focus too much of our energy trying to control that which we can’t control and not nearly enough time trying to control that which we can.

While some turbulence is inevitable, our behaviour often manufactures on mass.

In the wake of some turbulence, if you can be calm, accept it and adapt to it then you will come through it with relative ease.

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On the other hand, trying to deny and resist it will only get you caught up in it while making matters worse. Far worse.

Practicing the former can have a profound impact on your life. One that you will likely take for granted because you won’t stop to think of the consequences if you had gone with the latter.

And if you go with the latter? Well, unfortunately, it will kind of fuck your life up until you decide to go with the former. Which in this instance is acceptance and focusing on that which you can control.

German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, once said…

Everything that lives, suffers. There you have the essence of existence. Why this suffering? Because there is WANT: to live is to want, to want is to suffer. If there is a curse on man, it is that!!

I’m no philosopher, but it seems if there is another curse on man — namely our desire to deny all suffering. Which only exacerbates it.

Denial is a way of procrastination and procrastination is a technique for dealing with stress, which paradoxically, exacerbates it

The antidote to many of our problems is acceptance. Once you accept you have some shit in your life to deal with, all the required work to remedy it will come with far less friction.

The opposite of acceptance is denial. Denial fucks everything up.

.It’s all avoidance. There is little to no focus on a solution.

The first serious turbulence I had to deal with ruined me for over a decade.

A trail of shit began to unfold around me, and instead of accepting it and pro-actively doing something about it, I went into denial.

I didn’t want to compromise my cool kid act.

This proved to be an extremely ineffective strategy.

I had lit a fuse which blew up in my face throwing me into a world of panic and anxiety.

For years I denied it. I only wanted to accept a 100% definitive cure. That essentially means I was looking for a time machine.

This, yet again, turned out to be a terrible strategy.

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My anxiety got so bad one summer that I would drink almost a full bottle of vodka every evening just to feel comfortable speaking with friends. Not strangers. Friends. And that was before the party.

To save you the theatrics, the reason it persisted for so long is that I wasn’t equipped with the knowledge and tools to manage my own turbulence. And I didn’t take full responsibility for it.

If I was (equipped with the knowledge), and I did (take full responsibility) that initial panic attack would have done little harm.

Knowledge, understanding, acceptance, action, and patience are all essential for dealing with turbulence in life.

But I wasn’t. So I continued to avoid it the only way I knew how.

If you are presented with a problem and accept full responsibility for it, you will acquire the knowledge and take the required action to find a solution and remedy it.

You will dismiss the turbulence because you will be pre-occupied with the solution and the pragmatic steps required to get there.

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Many people deal with severe turbulence in their career. They want to deny it, resist it and fight it in every way possible. This is often done — subconsciously — by deflecting the problem on to someone or something else.

Toxic work environments. Asshole bosses. Kiss ass colleagues. Bullies. The list goes on.

All valid excuses. The problem is they are also devoid of responsibility. And largely beyond the individuals’ control.

By virtue of that, it’s avoidance.

I can’t find a new job is avoiding the responsibility of looking for one.

I can’t afford to take a pay cut is avoiding the responsibility of finding a job that pays you more, matches your current pay, or being more thrifty with your cash.

I can’t risk working for another asshole….

The list goes on, and on, and on.

Every problem listed comes with a solution largely within your control.

There is no acceptance and responsibility. Yes, you might have to take the scenic route, and yes, it might suck for a while, but surely it’s the better option?

The victim mindset kills us while the solution mindset can set us free.

Our instincts are often right and should be listened to when the topic is our values and our morals. What we believe to be right and wrong.

The same does not apply for when we go through personal turbulence. Or turbulence of the mind. Our instinct is to resist it. But resistance empowers it.

It will erode your confidence, your belief, your worth, and your self-esteem while replacing it with doubt, anxiety, depression and all that shit you want nothing to do with.

So, the next time you go through turbulence in life or business, take a minute to assess the situation. There’s a message in there for you. Listen to it. But don’t just listen—act upon it.

It might not be an easy decision to make. Especially if you are reprogramming years of faulty wiring. But it will be a liberating one.

Do you want to fly? Or do you want to crash?

Thanks for reading, Nicky

Originally published in Dojo Bali.


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