Embracing Turbulence


These are times of uncertainty. There is a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness in the air. There is loss, there is sorrow and there is instability. Some people are losing loved ones, their livelihoods, their homes; and with these losses there comes a time of transition – where we need to accept what has happened and be able to move on. 

I was in my thirties when I was at the cusp of a major moment in my life, where everything was turned over on its head. At that moment I just wanted one thing: to know what the future held. We’ve all been in those moments, and these days there is more of the turbulence in our lives than there is tranquility. That’s when I came across the ‘Serenity Prayer’ – the words just called out to me and brought forth a feeling of tranquility. 

I have always wondered why this prayer has stuck with me over the years, until I came across Stephen R Covey’s “Circle of Concern, Influence and Control”, the message was the exact same – there are things that we have no control over that we need to accept, others we can have an influence over. What the prayer did for me is exactly what Covey’s circles provide, a moment to pause and reflect on what is important in the moment. 

There are times in our lives where we will be stuck in a situation that we want to change, but are weary of the consequences. And there are times when we will be in a situation that we have control over but using that control will come with consequences. Having the wisdom to know when we need to be brave and when we need to take a step back is the challenge. This is what the last line in the prayer refers to. However, taking the prayer literally and just expecting to have the wisdom in any given moment is not what it is all about. Rather, it is about having a thought process or routine that we may follow when under stress, feeling anxious or having a bad day that will guide us towards the wisdom that we are looking for. 

Having a process that allows us to reflect on our current circumstances and bring forth clarity is key to managing turbulence. Outlined below are some steps that can be followed in order to find “wisdom” in challenging situations. 

Step 1: Acceptance

Acceptance is the key to contentment and satisfaction. Resisting and trying to fight what is not in our control will create an imbalance and lead to negative energy and habits. When facing difficult moments (e.g. rejection letters, job loss, lockdowns or other challenging news) it is important to check-in with yourself and do the following: 

  • Take deep breaths in and out for a few minutes. 
  • Ask yourself:
    • What is it that I am feeling?
    • What is causing this feeling?
    • Is this in my control?

Step 2: Courage

It takes courage to step into the unknown. When you feel you have run out of options, or when you are faced with difficult circumstances it is important to know whether you need to accept your circumstances and move forward or fight for change. In this step it is important to discern the following:

  • What do you have influence over?
    • List down what your circumstances are that are causing anxiety
      • For example: lockdowns, job loss, work transfers, cancelled exams, travel bans, etc
  • Do you have any influence over the circumstances? 
    • List the things that are in your control, or that you can work towards changing; e.g. if you’ve had a career setback, you can do some research to find out how to get back on track – a few courses, networking, etc. You might not have control over the career setback, but you have influence over what happens from this moment forwards. 

Step 3: Wisdom

This step is very similar to step 1, now that you know whether you have influence over your circumstances or not you need to fall into acceptance. You are in the position of wisdom and now you can move forwards. You may not be able to change the circumstances, but you might be able to have influence over how you handle the situation, or how you help others around you. 

Following these steps provides clarity and can allow us to acknowledge our thoughts and feelings, align our emotions and then act with grace.

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