What Do You Do When Things Fall Apart?

I started writing this yesterday. And I am not going to lie: I wondered if I should even publish today’s post. Because…what a week.

I’m safe and healthy, so I am well – physically. But emotionally, I am so, so dispirited. The pandemic of racism isn’t new, but it feels ever so raw right now. And dealing with it, as well as a health pandemic and a financial crisis…oof, it’s a bit much.

Yet, I chose to go ahead with today’s piece for two reasons: My body of work focuses on the human side of money. And everything with which we’re contending is inviting us to focus on and to prioritize our humanity. Also, I’m talking about stress. Uh, I think the times we’re in are certainly stressful.

So, I am pressing forward with a story and a few suggestions…

Last week I was invited by financial journalist, Stacey Tisdale, to contribute to a piece she was working on for WBENC’s – Women’s Business Enterprise National Council – Women of Color program. I know, it’s quite a mouthful. What was just as robust, though, was the topic she asked me to comment on: managing financial stress

You can check out the video here. It’s 60-minutes long, but you’ll find my comments at the following time marks: 18:39 and 23:54.

Although the piece focused on women of color entrepreneurs, the aspects of what I shared are universal — they are applicable regardless of who you are, how you may work and make a living, and they don’t just relate to money. So, I thought I’d flush out some of what I shared in the video, along with what didn’t make into the final piece.with what didn’t make into the final piece.

But first, it might help to understand how I think and connect dots…

Unusual Places

When I got Stacey’s invitation, the first thing I thought of was running. More specifically, my mind recalled a moment when I was training for my very first half-marathon. Here’s why: About six weeks into a twelve week training schedule, I woke up one morning and could barely walk. 

I told a friend, a seasoned marathon runner, and he suggested I get a foam roller. His prognosis was that my hip flexor muscles were tight. 

Being the dutiful “student” that I am, I went to the running shop to purchase a foam roller and the first thing the sales associate asks is, “…have you been increasing your miles.” Why, yes I have! I then shared the race I was training for and the date. And she recommended I attend a foam rolling class the store offers, which would help me with the pain and help to minimize the chance for injury as I got ready for my race.  

Stay with me just a little longer…

A few days later I am back in the store, in a foam rolling class and the combination of pain and the relief from it is odd. Yet it feels so, so good. This is the physical experience of the class.

I had another experience, which stemmed from a comment by the instructor. And it has stayed with me ever since, and it is what I think of when I think about stress, in general, and managing it effectively when things fall apart: 

“Where it hurts is not the source of the hurt.” 

In my hip flexor case, this meant that to relieve the pain I felt in my hip area, I needed to trace the muscle down my leg and use the foam roller there. “There” is where the stretching is actually needed — not where I am feeling the pain. 

Symptom vs. Root

I’ve come to view managing stress in the same way: Oftentimes, where and how the stress reveals itself is not the source of the stress.

Unfortunately, conflating these two points can cause you and me to make a critical mistake when it comes to effectively managing stress. This happens when you seek immediate relief from the stress, but don’t invest the effort and time to identify the root cause of the stress. 

A few examples of the financial kind: 

  • Overwhelmed with debt, so you focus on cutting expenses. This is logical and certainly provides immediate relief. But the root could be that you need to earn more money. 
  • Money is tight and cash isn’t exactly flowing. So you think getting a higher paying job or more clients will solve your cashflow problem. And, it will…for a little while. But what’s being masked are your financial leaks. In the former, the leak could be that you don’t spend intentionally or strategically. With the latter, what’s being masked is that you need to review your business model, sales process and/or pricing strategy.

With regards to this week’s events, it’s akin to looking just for the quickest, shortest way to alleviate the physical, emotional and financial pain of racism, but without wanting to admit systemic racism permeates our society.  

When things fall (or are falling) apart, one way to manage your stress – financial or otherwise – is to make sure you’re not just relieving the pain or frustration you most feel. 

You will likely benefit from delving deeper into and examining what else may be contributing to/influencing the pain you’re feeling.  

Focus on what you have

Here’s another thing: Remember to focus on what you do have (or have had). Steer clear of the temptation to only notice (or to be told by others) what it is that you don’t have.

In the video, I reminded viewers that yes Black entrepreneurs and Black-women founded companies don’t have as much access to capital as our counterparts. And the stats are aplenty in terms of how many of us were shut out from PPP and EIDL. 

But in the midst of those facts, let’s not forget that Black businesses generated $150 billion in revenue last year. That’s not insignificant! Whatever small portion of that your business represents, you are a part of that number. 

Also, today (Sunday) is the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre. If you’re not familiar with this historic event and Black Wall Street, you’ll find features in today’s issues of the Washington Post and New York Times. Or, you can visit the virtual archives of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.  

I bring this up because news coverage regarding the economic well-being of Blacks in America could lead the uninformed to believe that wealth in the 21st century is a new experience for some of us. Truth: We come from a lineage of people who have built thriving lives from “nothing” only for people to be killed and have their homes and businesses burned to the ground for no other reason than they were Black and living successfully.  

Another truth: We still have a long way to go to ensure economic safety, security, and prosperity for those who are left out. 

When things fall (or are falling) apart, another way to manage your stress is to resist the tendency to let the stress of the moment “blind” you and cause you to only focus on what you don’t have — but need or want.

Pause

And here’s my final reminder for today: 

When things fall (or are falling) apart, pause.

Pause for a minute before you make a decision or choice and ask yourself if you’re only doing it because of the circumstances at hand, or if you’d make the same regardless of what’s happening. There’s no right or wrong answer. 

The purpose of the question is to make you more present, so that you can be more self-aware regarding your decisions and choices.

In challenging and good times, we all deal with a steady level of stress. However, right now, we all need to make sure we’re being even more intentional about how we’re managing it. 

My hope is that the above will help you do that. 

Stay safe. Stay well. Stay woke.

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