I’ve made several mistakes lately—fortunately nothing major, but mistakes nonetheless. I forgot to text a client back to confirm their appointment. I told a colleague to meet me on Wednesday, when I meant all along for us to get together on Thursday. I left something in my fridge that I needed when I was making dinner at a friend’s house. I smashed my pinky finger, just 12 hours before I opened a door onto my foot and nearly broke the same toe I’d already broken three times.
Then came the coup de grace when I was out for a hike a few days later: I yelled at the top of my lungs, losing my temper at a random group of people. Now, you could say that these folks were asking for it, because they were racing down my favorite local trail on mountain bikes at about 30 miles per hour and just barely missed taking out my friend and I, but, really, I don’t think I should be screaming at anyone. It just isn’t my style. Nor is it the type of behavior I encourage my clients to indulge in. Most importantly, it is not strategic. These people didn’t care, hence why they were recklessly headed down a mixed-use trail as if they were the only people in the world. When I got bossy and yelled at them, “SLOW DOWN!”, they simply ignored me.
So, what is my problem? I’m not normally as clumsy and forgetful as I have been the past week or so. I try extremely hard to never make dumb errors with clients, or with other people’s schedules. And I am certainly not well-known for losing my cool and screaming at strangers. Any time I start to act out of character, non-strategically and in ways that I would not feel proud about, it is time to examine what is going on. I call these types of errors cracks in the functioning. They are nothing life-threatening or horrible, but small missteps, silly behavior, and nothing that will upend anything; just little cracks. And not how I would prefer to be managing myself.
Cracks in the functioning typically happen when a person is fielding more stress than usual. Any time our attention is being demanded by life’s big issues, little issues tend to arise. For example, my client in the middle of a divorce discovered his keys in the fridge. Another client went to drop off her child at school…on a Saturday (don’t worry, they both figured it out before the kiddo went off on a solo adventure in an empty school). Minor fender benders, lost stuff, losing your temper in situations you’d normally brush off— all of this stuff represent cracks in the functioning.
When I assessed my last week, a higher level of stress was absolutely present: I was trying to fit a full work week into three days in order to attend the funeral of another friend of mine passing away in a terrible accident (and then not being able to make it across the country to attend the funeral). I was also dealing with a difficult family situation, in addition to all the basic aggravations like traffic, grocery shopping, parenting a teen, and… you get the picture. Whenever the basic life stressors are amped up, we need to give ourselves a little grace and space, because mistakes can, and likely will, happen during these times. It is a great time to slow down, work your systems (keys in the bowl by the door, every time!), and take extra care when doing the little stuff so that you can stay clear and calm in the face of fielding tension and stress.
During these times, notice and acknowledge that you have an extra helping of stress, and take good care of yourself. Take a break when you can. Back off of obligations that increase stress if you are able. Slow down and stop yourself from getting to the point where you are yelling when what you really meant to do was enjoy your hike.