Monkey See, Monkey Do
He wobbles back and forth, shifting his weight from one foot to the next: half Frankenstein, half tightrope walker despite having the entire world beneath his feet. You hold your breath as each foot lifts from the ground. The tension builds as that tiny foot hangs in the air for a second. Both you and he wonder where it will land next. You follow closely behind, hunched over, hands outstretched, ready to catch the real-life Humpty Dumpty about to fall off his wall, and that's when it happens...
He falls to the ground with a thud. What follows is the moment of truth. It's a split second that seems to move in slow motion, the same way Michael Jordan used to glide through the air. From the seat of his pants, he turns and looks toward you. A frown starts to form on his face as his eyes start to well-up with tears.
If you haven't been there a million times before, you'll be there soon. It's not always when your kid is learning to walk, sometimes it's when you're playing and they bump their head, sometimes it's when they hear a loud noise. There are these moments as a Dad when your child will inevitably look at you, scared, injured, unsure exactly how to react to a situation. How you react in that split second will go a long way to shaping the next few minutes. Will there be a tantrum? A single tear? Maybe there will be no crying at all, instead those tears will turn to laughter.
Our children look to us in times of uncertainty for cues on how they should react. If we are calm and reassuring, they often respond in kind. If we make a production out of something, then they will too.
In adult life, people still look to others in times of uncertainty. Instead of their parents they look to bosses, co-workers, loved ones for an example. Be it sports, business, or relationships people look to leaders to set an example of how they should act when the future is unknown, because the unknown is scary.
It's something I've dealt with first hand as my wife faced getting laid off from her job. There are so many layers to deal with in such a situation. It's only natural that her own feeling of self-worth would come into question. There's also the question of what the loss of her income would mean on our financial future. In other words, there are plenty of reasons to panic, but panic is useless. Finding a new job is hard enough. Worrying about paying your bills and finding a new job at the same time would be daunting for anyone.
In that moment, my wife looked toward me the same way our son did after a fall. Sure I could have pulled my hair out, heck that would be understandable. But it wouldn't do anything to help the situation. So, I remained calm. That helped her remain calm too. It meant she didn't have to worry about our finances and our son. It meant she could go into future job interviews with less worry and doubt, both sure recipes for disaster, hanging over her head. Instead she could focus on finding a new job, on getting back up on her feet. And she, like my son, saw she had a steady hand to help her get back up.
No one wants to fall down, but if we're taking steps forward in our lives it's going to happen sometimes. When we're putting one foot in front of the other, it's easy. But when we stumble, it's how we act in those first few moments that people are looking at for guidance. Unlike Humpty Dumpty, we can usually put the pieces together.
So the next time your kid falls down or you lose an account in business take that split second of slow-motion to find your own balance. Find your calm in the storm, and watch how others react. That storm will likely blow over sooner then expected and you'll realize it wasn't so bad in the first place.