Keeping Your Head In the Face of Challenge

by Steve Ritch

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If by Rudyard Kipling

If, by Rudyard Kipling, is one of my favorite poems. It was written at a time in his life when Kipling had lost faith in the British government after the betrayal and wrongful imprisonment of a dear friend. Kipling wrote the poem for his son, John (who later went missing in World War I at the Battle of Loos in 1915 and whose body was never recovered), but it was also clearly written for his friend and as an exercise in overcoming his own feelings of powerlessness and shock at the lack of equanimity.

Too often we are faced with having to maintain our professionalism in our work life in the middle of challenging or even unfair circumstances—nobody ever said that even your work life was going to be fair. So what do you do when you are at the end of your professional rope and you do not see a quick resolution? 

There is a very simply acronym that may help supply the answers to get you started on resolving your dilemma; you should always remember to start with a good BASE or, to be more precise:

  • Breathe—ideally, any productive problem-solving session should begin by taking a deep, cleansing breath. An intake of oxygen not only clears your mind, but the regulation of your breathing can also move you from a highly agitated state to a more relaxed, calm state. That is exactly why controlled breathing exercises work for people who are hyperventilating and help others reduce pain, such as the Lamaze technique of natural childbirth.
  • Assess—listing the pros and cons of any situation will do several things for you. First, it gives perspective and allows you to look at things more objectively. Second, it allows you to see patterns and perhaps think about resources in the "pros" column that you might otherwise miss. Finally, it allows you to perform an impromptu gap analysis to see where you ultimately want to be and identify the new resources or assets that you will need to reach that goal.
  • Strategize—come up with a simple plan to move toward a solution. Your plan doesn't have to be elaborate to make a huge impact on resolving the challenges you face. In fact, simple solutions are often more successful, because they require less planning and fewer resources. Often, a less complex plan will have plenty of tiny milestones that are quickly accomplished, leading to an overall feeling of success.
  • Execute—do not be afraid to move forward with your plan. Too many work projects fail without ever being launched, because we often fear failure. What? Yes, fear of failure is often one of the most crippling aspects of project management. Like the Nike corporation ads say, "Just do it!"

There will always be times in our professional lives when we feel that we are at an unfair disadvantage because of something outside of our control. We will always have people and situations that challenge us, and often we may not know why something is happening. There is no perfect strategy to guarantee your career will be free of stress and strife. However, if you can stay calm in the middle of adversity and employ the BASE technique, you will "keep your head" in challenging situations when others do not.

ASHA Corporate Partners