How to move forward when you feel like the world is going to end

Energizer Bunny

On a Tuesday morning in September, a little over 15 years ago, I was waking up for work.

At the time, my alarm was set to play classic rock radio (I believe it was 94.1 WYSP). While I usually woke up to something by Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and the like, this morning, the DJ was talking, and with a very odd tone to his voice.

I’m not great in the mornings, but I do distinctly recall something like the following:

…so, I don’t really know what else to do here, so I guess the only thing we can do in the meantime while we wait for updates is to keep playing your favorite classic rock hits…

What was going on?

Of course, you’ve anticipated the punchline. The day was September 11, 2001, and I was waking up to the first real-world crisis of my adult life.

That day, everything around me seemed different. People who normally walk past each other and avoid eye contact would look, nod, and grimace in understanding. Strangers would hug. People would spontaneously be crying in the street.

There was a sense that things were different now, and that they would never be the same again.

I don’t know when you’re reading this post, but whether you’re reading this on the day it was posted or many years in the future, I want to take some time to talk about how to respond when you feel like the world has changed for the worse.

It’s okay to be scared

We all hate uncertainty. We may find it exciting in some circumstances, but for the most part, we want to know that the ground will stay underneath our feet and will hold our weight, just like it did the way before.

And when a crisis hits, uncertainty is all around. The “rules” of life appear to have been repealed.

To this, remember: feelings are always okay. You can’t help what you feel, and fear is an understandable reaction.

But remember as well: thoughts about feelings are always crap. “I shouldn’t be so upset.” “Why am I crying?” and other similar sentiments muddy the distinction between thoughts and feelings. Your thoughts about your feelings are almost always judgments, and they are always noise.

Feel your feelings. Stop judging them. If you sense yourself going there, stop yourself. You can’t change your feelings, but you can change your thoughts.

It’s okay to grieve

Change implies loss.

Every major change in my life, even the good ones, was accompanied by a corresponding sense of grief.

I remember arriving in Portland, after having driven across the country, leaving almost everything I knew behind. As soon as I parked the car, I burst into tears.

And yet, I knew that moving to Portland would be an unilaterally good move for me (though I had no idea how good it would actually turn out to be). Still, I cried; I cried for everything that I had left behind, and for everything that had left me behind.

So grieve the loss of what came before. It’s natural and expected.

Jump over the pit of despair

I think of despair like a pit. It’s something that you can “fall into”, and while there, it prevents you from doing much else. When you despair, effort ceases to matter; hope falls away.

It’s a terrible place to be, because it doesn’t go anywhere. You stay in the pit, unless you dig yourself out.

The solution to despair is action. Instead of proclaiming that all hope is lost, ask yourself, “what can I do?” Brainstorm, and don’t judge your ideas. Even something small can be invigorating to you, and helpful to others. Which leads right into the next point:

Build community

Now more than ever, we need each other. The world can be a scary place, and that is all the more reason to band together right now. Find someone to help, and help them, no matter how small the deed. Don’t wait to be world-changing right now. Just do something.

If everyone reached out to someone else, in some way, we could create a chain reaction of help. Imagine what that would do. Imagine how that would feel.

See the good in the bad

I believe in the inherent good of the individual. I recognize that this is a hard belief to hold onto these days, but stay with me here.

I believe that people are inherently good, but with very negative and destructive tendencies. When people are prosperous, these tendencies are subverted and marginalized. But when people are hurting, these destructive tendencies come to the fore.

So when people do things that seem destructive, it means to me that people are hurting. I think we will show the best of ourselves if we can recognize the humanity in that, even seeing past the destruction that some people’s actions might result in.

How can we alleviate suffering? That’s a difficult question to answer. My personal answer, in this moment is: find a way to spread prosperity around. How do we help make that happen? To me, that’s our work going forward.

The world is not ending

We’ve been through crises before. Even if you haven’t personally lived through one, you know people who have. Look to history: every time a major crisis happens, we believe that the world is about to end. And every single time, the world didn’t end. From World War II and the Cold War to 9/11 and the Great Recession, people were sounding the death knell of everything every single time.

And yet here we are. Still going, like the Energizer Bunny.

Keep working, keep striving, keep connecting, keep fighting the good fight. There is no alternative. Luckily, it’s the best thing we can do.

And please, if anyone needs to reach out and talk, please just send me a message. I want to help.

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