It’s February 2022 and many of the restrictions imposed because of COVID are being lifted. It has been 2 years of any or all the following: work from home, homeschool, remote school, no or limited excursions to for shopping, dining, entertainment, or holiday. Families and friends have become divided over differing opinions. Tempers are short and there is only right or wrong; rarely is there a middle ground. As we live through the evolution of ideas how to manage, we see the weight of various drivers change. Scientific, economic, religious, and political policies have all carried different weight over the past two years and as individuals we are expected to form our opinions and adapt to new ways of life.

The idea for this blog came easily while creating the above photograph. We are all at different places when it comes to stress, and we cycle through all stages at some point. The key is to be on the ‘intact balloon’ side as long as possible, and when we do reach the breaking point to make it as short as feasible. Merriam-Webster defines breaking point as “the point at which a person gives way under stress.” The second definition is “the point at which a situation becomes critical.” Recognize that we don’t get there overnight - there are different causes and influences that build up over time. Unlike the balloon analogy, we can pull ourselves back together and continue. We may look or act different, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just like we won’t go back to ‘normal,’ defined as our lives and society pre-2020, we move forward, changing to adapt, survive, and thrive.

How we do this is going to depend on the type of person we are, our resilience, and our ability to persevere. It will also require us to be honest with ourselves. The common theme is to look ahead with direction. Take a minute and think how you were taught to drive a car. Maybe you’ve taught someone more recently and it’s easier to remember. The message is not to look right in front of you, it’s to look ahead, toward the horizon. You must take in all the information around you and adjust your speed and steer accordingly. When driving, the horizon is in motion, generally with a short-term endpoint. When thinking of your life and career, you can have multiple horizons; imagine and plan for 1, 3, and 5 years that leads to a vision or goal 10, 20, or even 40 years ahead.

You’re probably wondering why I’m talking about a vision and a goal as part of a breaking point blog. I think it is essential to have the ‘plan’ in mind any time you need to make a decision or when there is something that impacts your life. Back to the driving analogy: imagine you’re going to the market to pick up a few things to make dinner for your friends a bit more special. You know how to get there, and you pick the shortest route to conserve fuel. You have driven a mile and get caught in road construction; there is a one-lane road ahead and traffic is stopped. After sitting 30 minutes, moving three car lengths, and perhaps saying a few choice words to release stress, you decide to get out of line and take another route. The shortest route is clearly not the fastest! This scenario can be played any number of times on this same journey, construction, accidents, or wrong turns keeping you from your destination. You can see how frustration and second-guesses could cloud your judgement to the point of settling for a milkshake and fries, adult beverages, or even making reservations for dinner rather than cooking.

Now take the above and reflect on your career journey, whether you’ve been employed for 20 years or just leaving university. Think of the decisions made. Were they intentional and aligned to your goals? Many times, when we are under stress or duress, we make decisions following our gut, rather than our head. Why is this relevant? Having a plan can give you grounding when something goes awry. In addition, what if you had simple techniques that enable you to diffuse pressure or hold yourself accountable – what changes could that make in resilience? Sometimes, I’m asked how a coach can provide value. The answer I provide is in the form of a question: what’s the loss of value if you continue your same trajectory? Will your balloon burst?