How Successful People Conquer Bad Days
March 3, 2015

How Successful People Conquer Bad Days

by Brian de Haaff

I had a bad day. Ok, it was really more tragic than bad. On Sunday, I shared with you the news that my sister-in-law passed away at 40. She died last Monday, was buried that Thursday, and I returned to work full-time yesterday.

Full-time is a funny phrase. I am working full-time if you do not count the time that my mind wanders. I just watched my niece (7) and nephew (6) bury their mother — how could I think clearly?

The outpouring of support has been tremendous. Sarah was a powerful, well-known force. She was a leader in many non-profit groups and created innovative speech therapy training in the San Francisco School District. Here are just a few of the kind words that strangers have shared:

I am in tears and that is ok. May her memory be a blessing. This is the time to mix it with work.
Thank you for sharing her fight. She beat cancer not because she did not pass (we all will eventually), but because she choose to live while she was here!

The following comment hit me the hardest though. It was a bit different from the others, and reminded me that even successful people have miserable days:

Work is a great way of channeling emotion into fantastic outputs! It doesn’t always work of course – we have days when we don’t want to get out of bed.

This is true. Work is often an antidote to suffering, but it is not a cure-all. Long-time readers know that I reject work-life balance in favor of sustainable happiness. I believe deeply that everything worth toiling for involves work, and that we should do more of what makes us happy.

The problem is, life is not always happy. If we want to support sustainable happiness, we must also accept that tragedy will seep in. Bad news does not wait until a board meeting is over. Whether you work from home or in an office, are the CEO or an intern, you will feel lousy at work. Sometimes it’s a low-grade malaise and sometimes it makes you sick.

So what do successful people do when they have a really bad day? Here is what I try to do:

Name it
Feeling lousy is part of life. It is okay to feel pain and more important not to run from it. The most important thing you can do when bad news arrives is to take a moment to acknowledge it. Name it and let it settle in. Talk to people about it and shine a light on it through your words and actions.

Keep your routine
If you are successful, you are likely a disciplined person who lives by good habits. Hold on to as many of those habits as possible. Even when it’s hard. It’s why I kept working out last week — despite feeling sick. We cannot stop bad things from happening, but we can control how we react to them. Get back to as much as what you did before things went astray.

Go, go, go
We all endure difficult times and have bad days. Depending on what happened, the deep pain can last for a few moments or several months. Some of us live affected our entire lives. Set small, achievable goals each week to keep yourself moving forward. Respect what has happened and keep an appreciation for what you have.

Pain makes us all equal; how we handle it and the compassion we show makes us special.

As humans, we all are vulnerable to events that hurt us. As a leader, I have wanted to share my own pain and provide space for others to express theirs. This is how successful people conquer what ails them and make everyone stronger along the way.

What do you do when you have a really bad day?

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the journey of pursuing a meaningful life.

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