Holding On In the Face of Doom and Gloom

At the end of a very rough week, I got a note from one someone who used to work with me.  She sent the following note to me:

“How do you keep from letting the turkeys get you down? Seriously, I’m looking for tips, because I see you continuing to work towards your vision, so I know you’ve figured this out for yourself (either that, or a lot of liquor). … How do you keep yourself energized? Usually I’m pretty good at this, but lately in the face of the budget, everyone’s all doom and gloom and it’s a lot harder.”

I read it Friday morning.  The week was so difficult, but I needed to be responsive.  I gave her some blah, blah, blah.  I talked about how difficult it is as a senior executive to find things to motivate you.  I said it wasn’t money or promotions or anything like that.  But, I was late for work and needed to finish the note later. 

I wanted to tell her the truth, but I needed to answer the question myself and didn’t have an answer at the moment.  Whining during bad times and celebrating good times are two extremes that for bad or worse, I avoid – and perhaps I need to work on that.  But, this particular day ended up being nearly as bad as the week.  I think I said the “F” word five times that day.  But, I needed to answer the question I got this morning, in spite of my mood.

Decimated budgets, endless scenarios, hiring freezes, questions from the press, an employee with bad news, and another one with total nonsense, and yet, I had to somehow answer a question for an amazing woman even though I found myself searching for answers and a way through these dreadful times.   I’m not sure I know the answer, but it’s important for me to find out and share with people like the amazing woman who asked me the question.  As I leader, if I don’t figure out for myself, I can’t help people I lead the bad times.  I do have a few things in my bag of tricks other than overeating, drinking too much, and sleeping too little.  Perhaps this answers the mail.

Hang out with energizing people.  Happy hour or lunch with people who make me laugh, make me think or just remind me to take deep breaths helps me tremendously.  I don’t like fake optimism, I’m a realist but someone who sees the glass half full helps me keep a constructive perspective.  Restaurant Week in Washington, DC is an amazing antidote for doom and gloom. 

Do fun things.  I had this same question before from my buddy, “F”.  He was going through a bad spell and asked me to give him something to do to get through.  I said, “Let’s go buy shoes!”  He stopped in his tracks and looked at me incredulously – then he laughed.  One time I was pretty stressed before an offsite meeting I was having with my leadership team.  I got there uncharacteristically early by 30 minutes.  I made a U-turn to the outlet stores in Queenstown, MD and decided that with a 20 minute round trip, I still had 10 minutes to shop.  There was a two-for-one sale that day and I saved a quick $100 … sort of.

Give Back.  Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my so-called huge problems, I forget about other people.  I got a chance to play the piano as an accompanist for a couple of saxophone students.  I swear I was tired but I stood up for a few hours in a sea of reeds and valve oil.  But, I wore flat shoes and knit pants and looked around to see what really matters — those kids.  Sometimes we think more about our problems than about the people we serve. 

Get a theme song.  I went through my Gloria Gaynor “I Will Survive” era several job assignments ago.  I didn’t think I would survive that job.  I set up a reminder weekly that popped on my calendar every Monday.  I would open the reminder, read the lyrics and hum it all day.  One of my CIOs has “High Hopes”.  My current one, which I gave to the employee with the bad news, the day before she got the news, is “Hold On” by 33 Miles:

… if the tide sweeps you out to sea

When your strength is gone

And it’s hard to believe

And hold on, hold on

When the current pulls you under

And your heart beats like thunder

Just give me your hand

And hold on, hold on

Until the storm is over

And I’ll be fighting for you

Just give me your hand

And hold on


The message from the lyrics that answers the mail is the notion that doom and gloom doesn’t last forever.  And sometimes, you do get weary and need to be energized.  But, when those times come, hold on, have hope, and believe that the storm will be over … because it will. 

 Linda Cureton

4 thoughts on “Holding On In the Face of Doom and Gloom”

  1. “Sometimes we think more about our problems than about the people we serve”. Ms Linda Y. Cureton.

    Indeed, our employers are little, they tantrum, and some take to stop bedwetting. But the small smile of our “bosses” should be sufficient stimulus to overcome all the challenges that life imposes on us.

    Cheer up with this forever!

  2. During break time, we make some office workouts and making funny things just to lighten up somehow the stress from dealing with our work.

  3. During break time, we make some office workouts and making funny things just to lighten up somehow the stress from dealing with our work.

  4. Hi Linda,

    There’s a story I once heard which probably isn’t true but here it is anyway.

    It’s said that a couple of days before the Apollo 11 launch, Neil Armstrong paid a visit to the VAB after his day’s training. It was late at night, and the building was vast, dark and empty (since his Saturn was already on the crawler making its way to the launch site). To his amazement, in the far corner he saw a man with a broom sweeping up. He went up to him and asked him what he was doing still here so late. The guy looked back at him, equally amazed, and said “Isn’t it obvious? I’m helping put a man on the Moon”.

    I know it’s tough. Normal people (ie not the sort of people who read NASA blogs), when they think of NASA, always think of Apollo, but those days are long gone. They got money, fame, and glory. You get budget cuts, and at the end of the year, you won’t even have a spacecraft to call your own any more.

    But think about it. NASA still has the space station, which is being kept. NASA still has the remit to build an interplanetary spacecraft, and a launcher for it, and people are working right now on a new version of the J2, the rocket motor that was used to send Apollos to the Moon, and will surely be used for that same purpose again. Sure, there’s no plan to build an LM, but once everything else is available, and development budget is freed up, how long do you think that’ll last? How long do you think Congress, or any President, will tolerate a situation where you can send people to look at the Moon from sixty miles away, but still not land?

    And don’t forget either, that NASA has already managed to get an air-breathing hypersonic vehicle up to Mach 10, and that’s just the unclassified position. You can bet that, right now, DoD engineers are doing their utmost to improve on that, and probably already have. And once you get to the equivalent of Mach 25 at ground level, you will have a vehicle that can get into orbit without having to carry its own oxidiser. That’s a game changer. It’s still a way off but it will be built. Not this year, not next year, but sometime, and you’ll see it.

    And however it happens, however and whenever that next footstep gets to the Lunar surface, in some small way it will be partly because of your work this week.

    You work for NASA! Don’t you understand how that sounds to an outsider, or even more, to a foreigner? Don’t you understand what you’re part of, the magic that exists in just four letters? To many, many people around the world, just to have a NASA employee badge is an impossible dream.

    So here’s my two cents worth of advice! Next weekend, go to a hobby shop and buy a model Saturn V and some model paints. Take it into your office, and build it, and stick it into a corner or hang it from the ceiling. And next time you’re feeling down, look at it until the feeling goes away. And next time you have an unhappy employee, show it to them. No matter how disconnected you feel, no matter how discouraged, that is what you are part of. Never forget it.

    And never forget, either, that although you don’t see it, and don’t hear about it, there are still many many people around the world who are rooting for you, and want you to succeed, and cannot do other than hope for you and read websites, so that’s what we do. Think of us too.

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