Hitting the Bottom of the Pool

The old saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," omits the critical phrase that makes all the difference: "each time, a different way."
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Sometimes we feel as if we are failing. Whether it is at work or in our personal relationships, we can find ourselves stuck, facing obstacles that we cannot overcome. When several negative experiences of the same kind converge, they re-stimulate others from our past. That overwhelming accretion hits us with a pervasive feeling of shame. When we are flailing, our confidence and our dreams sink.

When that happens, we free fall into a pool that drowns our energy and ability to emerge. Only when we hit the bottom of the pool do we have the resistance we need to push against it and lift ourselves to the top for the air we need to breathe again. We need the pool floor to provide support outside of ourselves to allow us to recognize true danger. Our push saves us.

Hitting bottom gives us the traction to move. It's why addicts totally collapse before they can turn to support groups. It's why the chronically unemployed and underemployed must accept that they must find another path, or another place. It's why the daily grind that we're not invested in takes its toll, pulling us under. It's why marriages often need re-direction before the point of desperate resignation or divorce. At a breaking point, you need a helping hand and a strategy to move forward.

The old saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," omits the critical phrase that makes all the difference: "each time, a different way." If just repeating the same old attempt doesn't get you where you want to go, acknowledge that you have to shift your strategy. For example, if your online resume postings go unanswered, have someone edit what you've been sending out. It could be that you have listed an objective that doesn't match the employer's need. It could be that you're applying for the wrong jobs for you. It could be that your resume is too long or not correctly formatted. So look hard at what you're trying to accomplish and make a change that can matter.

The same holds true when a married couple realizes that the same problem continues to present itself with predictable responses -- fighting, blaming or withdrawal. The partners typically decide to continue on or separate, without addressing the real issue. But it would be so much better to use this obstacle as the means to make a change. It is the recognition of being in trouble that leads to meeting with a marriage therapist to address how to move forward. It will take perseverance to find help. And that, if we're smart, gives us the impetus to change.

Sometimes you hit bottom when you lose a job. Despite the odds of a bad market, you can re-direct yourself with a career coach, mentor or good friend. You have to make real change. To do that, start listing what gives you satisfaction. Honestly confront yourself. Do you prefer to think or create on your own, or in concert with other people? Do you prefer to sell or buy? Persuade or lead? Next, list what skills you bring. Are you a self-starter or a completer? What are your areas of expertise, and what skills do you need to develop? When you hit bottom, you may be willing to move for a better job, take a temporary pay cut to keep the job that you have or make yourself commit to a more rigorous job search.

You have to assess who is in your own network. List your colleagues (past and present), people in your profession (including its professional association) and people you know from volunteer efforts or church groups. If you don't know anyone or belong anyplace, now is the perfect time to join something. To begin, you begin.

Make your luck happen.