The Opportunity in Crisis

The Opportunity in Crisis

Born to Heal Podcast with Dr. Katie Deming 

Dr. Katie Deming believes in making the Born to Heal Podcast accessible to all. If you aren't able to tune in, we've included the transcript from Episode #4: The Opportunity in Crisis here. 

Episode #4: The Opportunity in Crisis

Today, we are going to be talking about the opportunity in crisis. Crisis comes in many forms. Of course, as an oncologist, I see crisis in my patients' lives as the form of cancer. But crisis can be anything. It could be a family event, or someone in your family that sick. It could be a death in the family or the death of a loved one. It could be an interpersonal relationship that has gone awry, or something else in your personal life or even a professional crisis. So this episode applies to everyone in all areas of our lives. What I want to do is teach you how to recognize the opportunity in whatever crisis you face and give you some tools so you can take advantage of that opportunity.

Crisis & Opportunity 

What you may not know is that crisis, when written in Chinese, is actually composed of two characters. The first character represents danger, and the second character represents opportunity. In this sense, crisis is the combination of something that is dangerous or creating danger in our life, but on the flip side, crisis also creates the opportunity for something different and something new.

In order to really understand this, I want to talk about why that is. Why does crisis create an opportunity? When you encounter a crisis, your life in one area, whatever area that is impacted by the crisis blows up, right? Things just blow up in your face or fall apart. When that happens, it actually allows you the opportunity to pause and reevaluate the things in your life that are related to that area. Or, when you have a crisis in one area of your life, it could really create opportunities in other areas. It's all about how you look at it. The first step is understanding that you need to be looking for this, for this opportunity that comes out of crisis.

The Advantages of Being in Crisis

There are a few advantages that you have when you're in crisis that help you create opportunity that you don't have when you're not in crisis. Those advantages are that you are both motivated for a change and that you have become clear about what it is you want. Usually, when you're in a crisis, things are a mess in one form or another, so you're motivated to create something better. You also have a desire for something to be different. If you're in a crisis and you're having things fall apart, you suddenly become clear that this is not what you want and you have an idea of what you do want. We've talked about intent before, or having that desire or intent of what you want to create.

I'll give you an example that I think most people can wrap their head around. People who smoke cigarettes, if they get cancer, it often becomes an easy opportunity to quit smoking. Just like that. Someone who has struggled for years, they've done all the things, they've done the patches, they've done gum, they've done Wellbutrin, they've tried all the things and have resolved that 'I'm just one of those people who can't quit smoking'. Then they get a cancer diagnosis. And overnight, they've kicked that habit. Why? It's because they have the desire, they want to quit, and now they're motivated because they realize that their health is at risk, and that their smoking is contributing to the cancer. I think that's one thing that we can all wrap our head around, the understanding that if I had cancer, then it would become easy to make this change, when it had been difficult to make for years and years. That's the whole concept of creating opportunity in crisis, that you have these advantages of your desire and then motivation when you're facing a crisis.

The Danger in Comfort Zones

I think it's also helpful to look at the flip side of this. The flip side considers 'why do we not create opportunities or what we want when everything's going well?' This brings us to the concept of your comfort zone actually being dangerous. Your comfort zone is the enemy of change. When you're comfortable, you have no motivation or desire to change things in your life. Right? Everything's okay, so why mess up something that's comfortable? Even if your life isn't great, it's not bad and you're comfortable, so why give that up for something that you don't even know is going to work? When we're in our comfort zone and comfortable, it's actually hard to create new opportunity.

This makes it a bit easier to understand that, when things blow up, it pushes you out of you comfort zone and makes you realize that you're going to have to create something. So you might as well create what you want out of this situation rather than just staying put, which is what we do when we're in our comfort zone and everything's going fine.

The other thing is that many people live their whole life in a zone of comfort. But they're not living the life that they dreamed of, and the reason why is because, for most of us, our life often evolves. We make one decision, and then that leads to a long term relationship. Then you make another decision that gets you in a job, and things start to evolve over time. And you end up living a life that may not be the life that you would fully choose if you could say right now what it is exactly that you want. We get comfortable in our life, but the life that we've created is often an accumulation of these decisions that we've made over time that don't necessarily reflect who we are authentically, and what we want to have in our life.

Another part of what shapes our lives is often expectations from society, from our parents, from religion, from many different external sources, wherein we're trying to do what we're supposed to do. You're supposed to graduate high school, then go to college, then get a job, and then find a partner. And that may not be the exact path that was prescribed to you, but most of us have these external forces that are creating expectations. Often the decisions that we make to create our life come from the external forces that we experience in our life. Which is why, many times, we find ourselves in midlife, or earlier or later, and thinking, 'gosh, yeah my life's comfortable, but it's not what I dreamed of, it's not what makes me excited to get out of bed every morning.' This is because our comfort zone is kind of dangerous when it when we're talking about creating what we really want in our life.

Crisis as a Gift

I was at a dinner party recently, and I have some amazing friends, some women who are doing incredible things in the world. One of my friends is just a total badass. Professionally, she's climbed to the very, very tippy top of her field. She was the one that had it all, and then she had a series of events that happened over a couple of years that just really blew things up for her, and not of her own making. These were things that just happened and created a crisis in her life. I think many people could have gotten totally down on what happened, but when I saw her the other night, what she said was that it was a gift. She went on to explain that she was so grateful for the time that she had in her amazing career and all of the things that she had built, and then having things blow up was also a gift because now she gets to create something new. That blew me away. That is the sign of a very evolved, very in-touch person, and I was just so blown away by that. But it's so true. And this is what I tell my patients, that cancer or any illness or any crisis in your life can truly be a gift if you are able to see it that way.

I'm not saying that when something bad happens that you should be like, 'everything's perfect and great'. No, I want you to experience your emotions. Like we talked about in the second episode, process your emotions and allow yourself to feel the grief when you have a crisis occur. But then once you've processed the emotions, I don't want you to stay there. When you have a crisis, you want to recognize that you have a choice. You get to choose whether you stay in the grief and the downward spiral. Or, if once you process those emotions, you can choose to find the opportunity.

One of the things that I tell patients to do, often when they're finishing treatment and beginning to have a little bit of time to reevaluate their life, is to make a list. Make a list of the things that you love about your life, what it is that you would do exactly the same or you would have in your life, if you could choose all the things that were going to be there.

Then I want you to make a list of things that don't make you feel excited or energized. Things that feel 'blah', or like they're not working for you. Write those things down too. Next what you want to look at is 'what opportunity has been created by this crisis, where I can change some of those things that aren't working?'

When things go wrong, it creates an opportunity to reevaluate and choose something different. You want to be actively looking for those opportunities that are created. Knowing the things that you want more of in your life, the things that you love, and the things that you don't love, the things that are not working so well, is a good place to start. You then have some awareness of those things. The other thing that you can create is more of what you love. Creating more of that is also a way to take advantage of the opportunity created by any crisis.

With my patients, I often tell them that this is a tremendous opportunity if you're able to see it that way. As I mentioned, this conversation usually happens when they're finishing treatment, and oftentimes when people finish treatment for cancer, they feel kind of down. They feel as if they've been in this survival mode and doing the treatment, doing all the things that they need to do, and they thought that they were going to be so excited and so happy when it was all done. But then, for one, they're exhausted. Two, emotionally they haven't processed everything that's happened with the illness because they've been so busy surviving through the treatments. And three, they're nervous. They've been seeing doctors all the time, and now all of the sudden, it's like they're being set free. They feel like there's a big hole that has opened up underneath them and now they're free falling. So, at this stage, I tell my patients that this is a huge opportunity for you if you want it. I tell them it's the time to look at everything, like is your job what you want to be doing? Are your relationships working? Are you taking good care of yourself?

When you finish treatment for cancer or have any kind of crisis come up in your life, you have to recognize that people are going to be more understanding if you decide to make big life changes. That's an opportunity that's created by this, because one of the the constraints, I think, for us in society is that we want to please other people. We want other people to not be disappointed, so we just do things, even if they're not necessarily right for us because it's expected. When you've had a crisis, it's an easy time to explain to other people, 'I'm making changes, this has made me reevaluate my life'. Usually, everyone gets that, that you need to make changes after you have a life event that makes you reflect back on things. So that's one thing, really recognizing that this is an opportunity, and also that it creates some flexibility in our societal standards around making big changes when you've just had something blow up in your life. That's the way that you can really take advantage of the opportunity.

The Role of Fear

Now, there are going to be things that are going to challenge you if you're taking an opportunity during crisis, and one of those things is that you may be in fear. Fear of change, because we like to be in our comfort zone and change pushes us outside of that. Anytime you're pushed outside of your comfort zone, you're going to experience some discomfort, so you may have fear of what's going to happen or all of the things that can go wrong. This is where you can use the brain whisperer tool, recognizing that it's normal and that your brain is going to show you all the things that could go wrong if you make a major change in your life. What you get to do is love your brain, thank it for doing an amazing job, and then direct it where you want to go. Get really clear on what you want to create and put your attention there, to the possibility of creating that.

The Role of Discomfort

The other thing that may challenge you if you're taking an opportunity in crisis is discomfort. This ties in a little bit to fear. It's going to be uncomfortable when you make changes that push yourself out of where you've lived your life in your comfort zone. So the second thing after  managing the fear is getting used to discomfort. This involves telling yourself that if you make big changes, it's going to feel uncomfortable in the beginning and that it doesn't mean anything's gone wrong if you're uncomfortable. In fact, it's your body and your mind doing exactly what it's supposed to do. Our brains are designed to push us back into our comfort zone for survival, so if you have that, know that the discomfort is expected, and it's something that you just buckle your seatbelt and realize you're going to ride through it. The only way through it is through it.

Generally, when dealing with a crisis, we're not trained to take advantage of potential opportunities. If a crisis comes up, we usually try to solve the problem and then move through it. This, I believe, is a very typical response to a crisis. But what I encourage you to do is, when something goes wrong, ask yourself 'how is this happening for me?' Not to me, 'how is this happening for me?' When you say this, it trains your brain to look for the opportunity that's being created. A great way to create something new in your life is if you've had a crisis, take advantage of it. It really is an opportunity for you. 

Be Well,
Katie Deming

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