The Importance of Keeping Your Cool
I’m not in any position to tell anyone how they should live, so consider this an encouragement rather than a rule.
Jordan Peterson wrote a great book, 12 Rules For Life, that I think is worth reading for just about anyone. I read it a while back, and I think if I sat down to write my own rules for life, this would certainly be in there:
Rule #1: Don’t Overreact
My Overreactions (a small sample)
A few years ago, we were wrapping up the long and challenging process of building a house. One of my dreams, from long ago, was to build my own house. At the time, my dream was to build it with my own two hands, but I made a concession and counted it as a success that we hired someone else to build us a home.
We had gotten through all of the hard parts. All of the interior and exterior decisions had been made, the headaches had been worked through, we made some “sacrifices” on things because of budget, and splurged in other areas.
We were right at the finish line.
As a part of the requirements for the permit, we had to lay ground cover over the septic tank. According to my contractor, all we had to do was throw down some grass seed, then cover it with some hay so it would show that it was planted and growing a little bit. It was more of a check the box type of thing. However, I decided I didn’t want to waste the $100 it would cost to throw down seed and not have it grow long term. So, when I spread the seed and covered it, I decided I needed to water the yard.
The water was off at the house, because it wasn’t completed yet, but my contractor told me how to cut on one of the segments of the plumbing so I could water the yard. My dad and I went over, and after some issues with getting the water on, we finally got the sprinkler running and went to lunch.
When we pulled into the driveway, no exaggeration, there was a waterfall coming out of the top of my garage. Apparently there was a slight miscommunication between me and my contractor, and I cut the wrong segment of water on. There was a pipe that was not capped off in the living space above the garage, and it had been spewing water for over an hour. Water was cascading down the stairs, coming through the garage ceiling, and was at least an inch deep all over the living area. It was awful.
I called my builder over. It was a Sunday, but he rushed right over, and his reaction was that he had no idea what to do. Which was problematic, because that made two of us, and we were both ankle deep in water. Inside my home.
Thankfully for the two of us, there were three people there.
My builder just kept taking his hat off and rubbing his head and saying, “I don’t know, I don’t know, Oh my gosh, You cut on the wrong water”
Clearly, I had messed up, and was to blame, but that was irrelevant, and I was looking to the professional now to fix the issue. But it was like he was completely stunned and didn’t know what to do. For a minute, I thought we all might just stand there and watch the water run from the bathroom, through the bedroom, into the living room, and down the stairs for the next several hours while he kept telling me he had no idea what to do.
Finally, my dad said, “Surely there is someone you can call who can clean this up?”
My builder finally snapped out of it, called someone out, and after a couple of hours of vacuuming and a half dozen large fans, we were on the way back to normal. The water was cleaned out, the place was dried up, and we got away with only replacing some drywall and insulation, which was a miracle.
Thankfully, my Dad didn’t overreact, which is what it felt like was happening with my builder. He knew what to do, he had plenty of contacts to fix such a thing, but for a moment, it overwhelmed him.
I’ve done it plenty of times too.
One time while I was on a recruiting trip with my boss, and I was responsible for driving. We were going through an area that had a toll we had to pay, that we weren’t prepared for. It was also late at night and I was unfamiliar with the area.
I saw the sign for the toll and said something like, “Dang, $1.25 for a toll!”
And my boss said, very camly and very casually, “I don’t know I have that.”
For some reason, I completely overreacted. The toll was coming up, and there was only one exit before we got there. My racing mind told me the exit was the only way to avoid the toll, that we apparently weren’t going to be able to pay. What happens to people who can’t pay the toll!?! Do they take debit!?! Will we get a ticket!?! Will this go on my record? Oh my gosh!!!
Then I yanked the wheel and hit the exit before my boss could even finish counting the change.
I don’t remember what happened. We made it home, I know that. We didn’t have to take some backroad or ram through the toll to get there. We didn’t get our mugshots taken. Nothing close to what my overreacting brain told me might happen.
Don’t Magnify The Moment
I’m completely willing to admit that there may be moments that are too big for me, or situations that I may not be fully prepared for based on my skill level, experience, or expertise. I’m sure you’ve experienced these before, and if you haven’t, they are likely on the way.
I tried out for a college basketball team my freshman year, and the moment was too big for me. I hadn’t really been training, it had been a long time since I’d played competitively, and I wasn’t really invited to be there by the people that mattered. Also, they were hosting a big shot recruit that day, so the day was all about him, and they were more than happy (the players) for me to be collateral damage during his show. I got destroyed, and deserved it. I wasn’t ready.
But that wasn’t an overreaction on my part. I just wasn’t ready. I wasn’t good enough in that moment. The gap between my skills and my preparation and what was required of me in that moment was simply too big. Those moments are humbling, and usually good learning experiences if we’ll let them be.
What I’m talking about here are the moments, when we allow our emotions to get in the way of things we know, or we magnify things that don’t deserve our magnification. We overreact. We lose our cool.
When my builder walked into the unintended swimming pool that I’d installed in my garage apartment, it was certainly a problem. But problems have solutions, and this guy solved these types of problems for a living. He had a phone full of people that he could call to get it taken care of. But for a moment, he allowed the moment to be bigger than it needed to be.
I just Googled Up what happens when you can’t pay a toll. There are different options in different states, and I didn’t spend too much time on it, but basically, life goes on. Sometimes there’s a fine. Other times there is a very small fee to pay the toll later online. It’s not a big deal. Unless you make it one.
Don’t Overreact is a good reminder for us in so many ways.
The Importance of Not Overreacting
Have kids? This is an incredible rule (rule for me, encouragement for you) to follow. Think about how many times they spill on the couch, leave their shoes out, or forget to put the milk away. Now think about how big of a deal any of that really is. The encouragement is not, Just let it go. But instead, Don’t Lose Your Cool.
Have a big presentation coming up? Don’t overreact. Slow down. Say what you need to say. Stand on a platform, not a stage.
Something come up that’s unexpected? Don’t overreact. What’s the next, good step you can take? (Hint, it’s probably not yelling and screaming uncontrollably, or crying in the corner).
When we overreact, or lose our cool, it gets in the way of us finding a solution. We start to project outcomes that are either extremely unlikely (me ending up in an underground prison and never seeing my family again after skipping a Florida toll), or may be completely avoidable if we can settle ourselves down and take reasonable action.
We can also do serious damage to our relationships and reputations when we go to Threat Level Midnight over something that the other party sees as a small or solve-able issue. Teaching our kids, and the relationships we have with them, are more important than the issue at hand. Dropping Thor’s Hammer on them for their transgression, regardless of what it is, is probably not what’s best for anyone.
Finally, the encouragement, Don’t Overreact, is not just for “small” issues. It’s an encouragement for every situation. Again, another way to consider this is, Don’t Lose Your Cool.
If we want to be a steady force in our kids’ lives, if we want to be a leader at work, if we want to run a business of our own, or if we want to make sound decisions in the face of challenges, this is a great encouragement to live by. The ability to stay focused on who we are, recognize the situation as a moment and not as permanence, and focus on finding a solution rather than jumping immediately to Threat Level Midnight is a skill worth building.
We can build ourselves into the types of people that are able to handle the big moments too. It doesn’t mean we can’t/won’t get knocked around, or that we won’t face setbacks. But we can develop into the type of people who face challenges without losing our cool, which allows us to make more competent, confident decisions based on who we are and what we want and need, rather than how we feel in a moment.
I’m pulling for you,