Keep Calm: Dealing With Upheaval

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It was the day before Father’s Day a few years ago and I was planting flowers in the bare spots in the garden. I knelt in the garden alongside our garage, moving the last plant out of its pot and into the ground. I patted the dirt around the new planting.

Smiling, I stood up, and a pain shot through my back that forced me to grab the side of the garage to steady myself. The pain was so severe that passing out loomed as a distinct possibility. For a few moments, I stood with both hands against the wall (think of the “getting frisked” position). Then I moved, but with great pain. I could barely walk, but I forced myself. The pain eased and eventually dissipated, and I thought I had pulled a muscle.

Six weeks later, the pain suddenly returned; this time, even worse than before. The doctor suspected a ruptured disk in my back and an MRI confirmed it. As the doctor gave me the results, he rather casually asked, “How are things at work?”

Things had been awful, for more than two years. A highly successful team I had led had been broken apart. A new boss had been brought in, and he made no secret of favoring one group over the rest. Functions, including mine, had been stripped of resources to give more to the favored team. Teams were floundering; people were leaving. I was in the throes of trying to resuscitate important functions that had been left to die, and I was still responsible for my regular work.

I take stress straight to my back. This time, it rebelled. I spent three weeks at home trying to work. The only comfortable spot was flat on my back on the floor. I was taking too much pain medicine to drive. My personality underwent a profound change, and I became surly and nasty.

I walked with a cane and parked in handicapped spots. The possibility of surgery was looming.

In addition to lots of physical therapy, I began meeting with an all-men’s anger management group. We learned that we dealt with anger in one of two ways, either expressing it badly or suppressing it (that was me). I had dealt with upheaval at work by internalizing it.

I also turned to the elders at our church for a laying-on-of-hands healing and prayer ceremony. I didn’t expect instant healing and I didn’t get it. However, in the weeks that followed, I could sense improvement. I put the cane away in early February. By the end of March, I was riding my bike.

To avoid such a situation in the future, I’ve significantly reduced the degree to which I suppress anger. I don’t swallow bad directions or bad ideas at work; I push back. In a recent situation that was simply bad, I refused to do the “good soldier” thing. I stood my ground, and the other guy finally blinked.

I also get help. Earlier this year, I pulled a muscle in my back. Instead of waiting, I called the therapist immediately.

Finally, I’ve stopped trying to save the world. Organizations can do some really dumb things; I made a conscious decision not to fix the next dumb thing and, more importantly, followed through. Also, if a colleague is looking for affirmation for a planned course of action and I think it’s a bad idea, I tell them so.

I wouldn’t have done any of these things three years ago. But no organization is worth my health. No job is worth the time stolen from my family.

If I start to backslide, I remember being braced against the garage wall, barely able to move, pain shooting through me.

No, thanks.


Glynn Young leads the social media team for a Fortune 500 company in the Midwest. He also serves as Community Twitter Editor at The High Calling and contributing editor at Tweetspeak Poetry. His latest books include the novels Dancing Priest, A Light Shining, and Poetry at Work. He and his wife, Janet, have two grown sons and two grandsons. Send a note to Glynn.

Keep Calm

"Upheaval" is something most of us dislike, especially when it applies to our work situation. When the corporate structure changes or we're forced into an uncomfortable position, how do we respond? Maybe we cope by denying anything's wrong and carrying on as if we're not upset. If we're a "Ready, Aim, Fire!" kind of person, we might strike out at people around us before seeking God's wisdom. Either approach can backfire, leaving us in more of a chaotic situation than before. In our series Keep Calm, The High Calling offers stories full of hard-won wisdom and practical ideas for coping with extreme—and often unwanted—changes in the workplace.

Featured image by MattysFlicks. Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.