Sometimes We Have To Wait For The Clouds To Clear
When we are in an unpleasant situation, we want to get out of it as quickly as possible. But if we cannot see where we are running, we can run into our misfortune. thunderstorm in the mudflats
I remember when I went to the mudflats many years ago. The tide had caused the water to retreat hundreds of meters, as happens several times a day on the German North Sea coast.
I was standing on the border between the sea and the tidal flat when a thunderstorm broke out. Within a few seconds, the whole tidal flat was flooded a few centimeters high. It was no longer possible to see where the sea began, and the tidal flat ended. The rain was so heavy that I could not see more than twenty meters in any direction. Also, the shore was out of sight.
There was only me, in the middle of a seemingly endless expanse of water, without remembering where the shore was and where the sea was. I had to stand motionless and let the storm pass by.
It was a moment when I felt tiny and very calm at the same time. The world around me seemed to have disappeared.
If I hadn't stopped, but gone on, this could have been my death.
One of four possible directions was out to sea.
If you go out from the tidelands into the open water at this point, it's hazardous. In some places, the seafloor abruptly drops steeply, and suddenly you are in deep water.
People have already drowned because they did not manage to get back into the shallow water over the breaking edge.
So instead of running off without knowing where to go, I crouched down on the ground.
If you stand in the middle of a thunderstorm in the mudflats, you are endangered by lightning because you are the highest point in the area.
It was both terrifying and fascinating to be at the mercy of the elements in this way.
After a few minutes, the storm passed, and the heavy rain stopped.
I dared to get up and look around again.
Gradually I could see in all directions again. There, where I had suspected the beach, was the open sea. To get ashore, I would have had to go in the opposite direction.
At that moment, I was glad that I had decided not to take another step. I would have walked straight to my doom.
Decisions in unclear situations
The thunderstorm in my story stands for all kinds of threatening situations that can tempt us to act without thinking.
When we feel threatened, our first reflex is to run away. In everyday life, there are many conceivable situations of this kind.
If the job suddenly becomes too much for us and we fear a burnout, we want to get out of the situation immediately.
If we have a financial emergency, we are quickly ready to do everything we can to get some money.
After a terrible fight with our partner, we have an overwhelming need to flee the relationship and leave everything behind.
These are only three examples, but they all have in common that the escape reflex very quickly becomes overpowering without us knowing at that moment where the next step we take would lead us.
We feel compelled to act immediately. In such moments we are on the same level as animals who only follow their instincts. If we fail to take a step back and reflect on our situation at this moment, we can cause irreparable damage.
Human beings are the only living beings on this planet capable of planning because we can play through possible future scenarios in our heads. So if we are in danger, we should make use of this ability.
In the storm I got caught in, I resisted the first instinct to flee and weighed my options.
One of the possible directions I could have taken would have meant my death. On the other hand, it was not clear that I would be in real danger if I had simply stayed where I was. So I decided to wait and not take the risk of running to my doom.
In the scenario where we suddenly realize that our job is getting too much for us, it's very similar. If we think for a moment in this situation, we understand that we do not have an alternative plan yet.
We could storm out of the office now and never come back. But we do not know what to do next. The most likely result of this immediate escape would be that we would be fired and would not be able to pay our rent next month.
With no job, no money is a sure thing. Less certain is that we will actually have a nervous breakdown within the rest of the day if we stay in the office. Of course, we don't have to put up with our toxic job forever, but we shouldn't give in to the first flight impulse immediately without any plan. The result of this spontaneous action could be even worse than our current situation.
Also, in the other two examples, the financial emergency, and the marital dispute, our first reflexes are not the best choice. We could run off in a panic and rob a bank or run away from the shared apartment to live on a couch with a friend in the future. Both decisions are certainly not optimal.
Once again, I am not advocating staying put in bad situations, but instead planning the exit with a cool head. This can mean that sometimes you have to hold out for a while in the situation, but in return, you suddenly have a goal in mind that can motivate you to hold out until you have made all the necessary preparations.
I knew that the thunderstorm would pass and that I would be able to see where the beach was again.
Sometimes you just have to stay calm for a while and wait until you can see the horizon again. As long as the clouds of panic obstruct our view, any spontaneous action is potentially more dangerous than the situation we are trying to escape from.