Notes from the Field
What do we do when life throws us a curveball?
On this podcast, we’re equipping ourselves with the mindset and the means to live with guts, gusto, and abandon. Growing in our ability to respond to life’s inevitable curveballs requires both evolving our mindset and upgrading our means. And as we get better at responding to life’s curveballs, we increase our capacity to live with even more guts, gusto, and abandon.
In this episode, I’ll draw from my own recent experience to share with you what I’m learning in real-time about what to do when life throws us a curveball.
A Season of Curveballs
It’s been a weird start to the year for the Petty family. A season of curveballs, really.
Shortly after Christmas, I cracked a wisdom tooth and had to have it pulled, and then all four of us did our second lap around the block with COVID. In early February, my wife, Charis, suffered a concussion from a fall skiing and was sidelined from life and work for the better part of two weeks. Then, in early March, Charis was sidelined again, this time with excruciating back spasms that came seemingly from out of nowhere. It was Charis’ turn yet again in early April, this time with agonizing neck spasms–an episode from which she’s still recovering as of this episode’s air date. It was horrible to see her in so much pain and not be able to do anything about it.
Then, I summoned the courage to schedule a routine annual check-up with my doctor.
“Summon the courage?” you might very reasonably question. For many, if not most, of you, scheduling a routine check-up isn’t a matter of courage but more just a matter of not forgetting to do it. For me, though, the flavor of Anxiety that I can experience around health stuff tempts me to avoid stuff like annual exams because ignorance is bliss, right? Until unavoidable reality shatters that blissful ignorance, of course.
So, after a couple years of negligence, I heeded Jordan Peterson’s admonition to “treat myself like someone I’m responsible for helping,” grabbed myself by the scruff of the neck, and dragged myself off to the doctor.
The Mortality Mindset motivated me here, too, calling me out of the shadows of avoidance and denial and into the light of prudence and reality.
As my doctor walked through the results of my bloodwork with me just a few days ago, I was pleased that so many indicators were positive–much more positive than I’d expected, in fact, or had been the case in previous years. Then, my doctor got to the final result, and his demeanor changed slightly but perceptibly. “Was this a fasting lab?” he asked. “Yes,” I answered. “Why?”
The Latest Curveball
Long-story-short, after another blood draw, it turns out that I’m borderline diabetic. At least, that’s what I think the result means. I have a follow-up conversation scheduled with the doctor.
To the degree that the title of this podcast was ever merely theoretical or academic to me, this new development made it a whole lot more real and more personal. An actual medical result related to an actual disease that ranks among the top 10 leading causes of death globally.
I’ve sat with this news over the past few days–aware of a growing heaviness. Becoming aware of the long-term lifestyle implications of a chronic condition. Aware of another reminder of the loss of youth. Perhaps even beginning to grieve a little bit. Aware too that my grief may be very premature because there’s still a lot that I don’t know. It’s been a bit of a roller coaster. I’m still in the awkward early stages of understanding my situation.
Whatever my situation truly is, though, it is at least the latest in a series of curveballs.
Which brings us to the question that’s at the heart of what we’re exploring today: “What do we do when life throws us a curveball?”
What to Do When Life Throws Us a Curveball
I’m not going to subject you to what would undoubtedly be a painful attempt to expand the curveball metaphor beyond its useful limits. But I do want to share with you what I’m learning about what to do when life throws us a curveball and how I’m attempting to respond to our current season of curveballs. There’s a LOT that could be said about this–maybe even much more that should be said–but I’ve tried to narrow it down to the essentials to keep it as simple and actionable as possible. Think of what I’m about to share as points on a compass–a compass specially designed to help us navigate our way through life’s many challenges even more effectively so we can live with even more guts, gusto, and abandon.
Before I add or mix any more metaphors, we’d better go ahead and jump right in.
When life throws you a curveball…
First, summon the courage to acknowledge Reality.
It’s astonishing how hard this one can really be. In response to something unwanted or unwelcome, especially of the more catastrophic sort, our deep-seated denial mechanisms spring into action. We can even experience a sort of dissociation. This may in some ways be inevitable and unavoidable and even necessary from a psychological survival standpoint. But we do ourselves and others a favor the quicker we are able to acknowledge the new Reality to ourselves and, I suggest, to a few trusted others. Be mindful neither to minimize nor catastrophize, and it will likely require the more objective input of others in order to avoid either extreme.
Acknowledging reality also means allowing yourself to experience the emotions that accompany it, whatever they may be. Attempting to manhandle your emotions into some sort of artificial or premature compliance only drags things out and compounds the impact of the curveball. Be as honest as you know how to be about how you’re really feeling. This establishes an emotional starting point from which you can chart a course forward. But until you’ve established that starting point, very little productive forward movement is possible.
I don’t think, however, that acknowledging Reality is the same as accepting Reality–at least not in the early stages. I’ve acknowledged the Reality that something’s wonky with my blood sugar. I’ve given myself permission to experience the emotions that are presenting themselves. But I’m also well aware that I don’t know enough nor have I lived long enough with the implications of this new Reality to have accepted it. Acceptance will come, but I’m not asking that of myself yet.
I’ve found the Mortality Mindset really useful in my own efforts to acknowledge Reality. Armed with the conscious awareness of my Mortality, I’m more powerfully motivated to experience Life as it IS rather than attempt to escape into wishful thinking and fantasy. The sooner I can embrace what IS, the sooner I can get on with living–even if that living has been substantially altered by the curveball.
The next thing to do when life throws you a curveball is what I’ll call “triage and adjust.”
Triage is a term most commonly encountered in emergency medical situations. In case you’re unfamiliar with it, triage basically means determining the order in which injured or ill people will receive care, with those most in need of it receiving care first.
In the case of a curveball, after acknowledging the new Reality, it’s time to conduct our own triage assessment of the situation and adjust accordingly. When Charis’ spasms were at their worst, she was really completely out of commission. My triage assessment led me to prioritize Charis’ and my wellbeing first–the whole airplane oxygen mask idea, then our boys’ wellbeing, then work and other obligations. The assessment helped me determine how to allocate my time, energy, and other resources in response to the curveball.
Maybe that seems like a Captain Obvious assessment. But what I can be tempted to do, and I bet some of you can relate, is to try to keep up my pre-curveball levels of productivity and performance even after a curveball has crossed the plate. When curveballs arrive, it’s not business as usual. So don’t try to act like it is. It’s time to triage and adjust. It’s time to work WITH the new Reality rather than resist it so you can move through it more effectively.
This episode is actually the result of working WITH the new Reality rather than resisting it. As my production deadline approached, I had nothing. In fact, I had never been so close to my production deadline with nothing already in the works. But, I relaxed and reminded myself that I could trust myself to get it done. The idea and the inspiration would come. Sure enough, the first flicker of an idea popped up when my wife and I were driving to my son’s track meet, and she suggested the curveball theme. That led me to begin considering how I had been approaching our season of curveballs and how I could formulate that in a way that might be useful to others. My acknowledgement of our Reality and the subsequent triage and adjustments had led to a super-tight production window. It wasn’t business as usual, so I hadn’t tried to act like it was. And when I stayed open to working WITH the new Reality, IT ended up working with ME.
The final thing to do when life throws you a curveball is get back on the offensive.
Curveballs put us back on our heels–reactive, defensive, reeling a bit. But once we’ve summoned the courage to acknowledge Reality, triaged, and adjusted, it’s time to get back on the offensive. Two questions can help us do that and avoid falling into a passive, victimy mindset:
First, what am I able to influence or control in this situation that could improve the situation? Whatever your answer is, do that thing. Maybe you can enlist the help of a medical professional or call upon a friend to watch your kids for a bit. Maybe it’s time to cancel some commitments in order to make room for the new Reality. Whatever you can do to improve the situation, take responsibility for doing it.
Next, in what other areas of my life can I continue to advance? It may be that not much about the curveball is within your ability to influence or control. But there are ALWAYS other areas in our lives where we can exert influence or some measure of control and advance. Finding those areas and determining to take Action in them is a powerful way to stay on the offensive in life, even if a curveball has changed life as you knew it.
Landing the Plane
Curveballs in life are inevitable. It’s not a matter of IF life will throw you one; it’s simply a matter of when and what it will be.
Improving our response to life’s curveballs, then, is an essential part of living with even more guts, gusto, and abandon. This episode has helped equip us with the mindset and the means to respond to curveballs more effectively.
When life throws us a curveball:
Summon the courage to acknowledge the new Reality.
Triage and adjust.
Get back on the offensive.
And through it all, as you try with all your might to respond even more effectively to life’s curveballs, shower heaping portions of grace and patience on yourself. You’re a wonderful, remarkable, unique, and imperfect human. Value progress over perfection.
Remember: You ARE going to die. But you’re not dead yet. So keep getting after it–even if getting after it looks a little different than it used to because life threw you one of its inevitable curveballs. Sometimes, different is better, and sometimes, different is beautiful. And sometimes, as Carl Jung said, “That which you most need will be found where you least want to look.”
What about You?
How do you respond to life’s curveballs? I’d love to know.
I’m so glad you tuned in today. Don’t forget to follow this show, and I’ll see you next time on Andrew Petty is Dying.
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If you're new to this show, browse the archive of past interviews with fascinating people and short, topical solo episodes--all designed to equip you with the mindset and the means to become the person you were made to be and live the life you were made to live with guts, gusto, and abandon. We flip the script by inviting our ancient foe, Death, to become an unlikely ally in our heroic journey to leave it all out on the field of life. Turns out, Mortality might just be the most potent motivator available--blasting us out of our ambivalence and complacency and toward the fullness of our potential.