From time to time I find myself stuck. You know that feeling: it feels like you are trapped and that nothing you do will make a difference. I felt trapped at work – I couldn’t figure out how to move to the next level of a relationship with someone that I needed to get feedback from. I felt trapped at home – literally, since we have chosen not to go out to restaurants or to our friend’s houses for fear of Covid; and trapped at home because my foot is injured. My phone wasn’t working as a phone, so I couldn’t call the foot doctor to make an appointment. And even if I could see the foot doctor, the unbalance problems I’m having made me nervous about walking; so there’s another appointment to make that I couldn’t make because my phone refuses to function as a phone. I need a new phone, I told my husband, he suggested that we wait until Columbus Day and see if the one I wanted went on sale.
We all feel this way from time to time. As we’re standing at the bottom of a huge hill, staring up at towards the top, thinking of all the reasons we can’t get there. In change management, we call this the Pit of Despair. (Although one of my former colleagues smiled in pain whenever I named it and always corrected my labeling.)
The Pit of Despair often follows that initial high that we get when we are standing at the top of the previous hill, we gaze out over the landscape, see the top of the next hill, and think, “This is awesome! I’m totally going to breeze through this.” And then we hop on our sled, slide to the bottom of the hill, and are stuck down there in the valley, gazing up at the next hill and thinking what a daunting climb it is.
It’s easy to get stuck down there, in the valley.
We trash about, feeling the heaviness of the mud on our feet – so heavy! It feels dark and overwhelming and you feel alone, nobody understands how you feel. Nobody appreciates how hard it is down there in the pit. Nobody recognizes how high that hill before you is.
It’s bad when you feel trapped down there. The pressure builds on you – you’re apt to snap at people. My bedside reading right now is a series of mysteries by Susannah Stacey. The interesting thing about these mysteries is that the murderers often have the same “tell.” (Mystery writers do this: for Tony Hillerman, it’s the insensitive white person.) Stacey’s murderers feel trapped (and often are) by life and don’t know how to get out. The valley looks too steep and it’s dangerous down there, something is threatening them. And they lash out. But instead of solving their problem, of suddenly lifting them out of the valley, they find that they have sunk even deeper. Things have grown darker, more oppressive. (Stacey’s detective, on the other hand, has come through his valley and is looking forward; it’s a nice contrast.)
It can help when someone joins you in the valley, listens to what you are saying and helps you reframe. In change management, you plan for the valley, you stage your communications to provide the most support just as people hit the valley. That’s the point where you want supervisors directly involved, checking in, making sure everyone is ok, providing support if they’re not; reminding people of the view from the top of the next hill. It’s one of the reasons why immature change management methods – tell them nothing then drop everything on them at the last minute – fail every time.
You take a step – oh the mud is pulling you back. You take another step. Sometimes you climb up two steps and slither back one. From time to time, you wonder if it would make sense to let go and slide all the way back, but then you realize how far you’ve climbed.
And something shifts. You realize how much space there is above you, how much sky. How much closer to the top you are. You can see that you’ve still got a ways to go but if you look down, that you’ve made it much further than you thought you would.
In my case, I figured out how to make the doctor’s appointments – it turned out to be easier than I anticipated, even without my phone. (And, if my husband can’t use his because I’ve got it – oh, perhaps waiting until Columbus Day isn’t an option after all?) The foot doctor said walking was part of the therapy for my foot – just 20 minutes a day, don’t overdo it. And that direction has got me walking again, remembering how much I love to walk, wanting to walk more. I walk in the morning or maybe at lunch for a break. And, oddly, I feel a little less unbalanced after walking. The ENT ran a bunch of tests and has some theories about the vertigo; so more tests. But things are moving forward.
And suddenly I don’t feel stuck anymore.
When you reach the top of that second peak, the one that seemed so unattainable when you were down in the valley, it helps to look back. To appreciate how far you’ve come but also to look down into the pit, recognize it for what it is, recall what you learned there, and tuck your new tools into your toolbelt to use the next time.
Because, as you look forward, you will see that after a while, you will come to another viewpoint – how awesome that vista looks in front of you. That next peak.
And the valley between you and it.