Never Look at Your Commute the Same Way

My friend Kaoru used to take a high-speed train ride to and from work 30 minutes each way. That doesn’t sound like an unreasonable commute, does it?

It wasn’t unreasonable until March 11, 2011. The 8.9 magnitude earthquake struck at 2:46 pm local time (in Japan). Even though, according to CNN, the epicenter was 230 miles northwest of Tokyo, the vast extent of the damage from the combination of the quake, the aftershocks and the tsunamis they spawned immediately resulted in the closure of the high-speed rail system throughout Japan. Millions of commuters were stranded in an instant, including Kaoru.

Although that day Kaoru was able to safely get out of the high-rise office building where he worked in downtown Tokyo, that afternoon/evening it took him NINE long HOURS to WALK home. His wife, Kazumi, and their two young daughters had no idea during that time if Kaoru was even alive. (Cell phone service ceased working almost immediately after the quake as well.)

Most of us in the US get grumpy when our commute takes an extra 10 or 15 minutes. When we can’t reach a loved one on their cell phone within 10 or 15 minutes, we start searching for reinforcements.

How would you handle 9 hours of such grueling uncertainty? When you think of Kaoru, I bet you’ll never look at your commute the same way again.  It could always be worse!

The takeaway here applies to everyday obstacles in your career as well. What challenge seems insurmountable at the moment? What problem has such a degree of complexity that you can’t figure out how to tackle it yet? Consider these tips for dissecting the apparent chaos:

  • Find someone else to talk to about the situation who can give you an objective opinion (or two). You may operate too close to see it through neutral eyes. Talk to your trusted advisor(s) – it may take more than one!
  • Look for common ground. When you have multiple stakeholders involved in what seem like competing agendas, how can you help them find common ground across their goals? When you find the overlaps for all to work toward, others view you as brilliant!
  • Put it all in perspective. While the situation may cause you stress for good reasons, it too, shall pass. Sometimes the insights you need come from stepping away from the intensity of the vortex. Take a walk outside during your lunch break, or leave early one evening to go to your child’s event at school. Working weekends and late nights gets diminishing returns after a while.

And every day, each one of us can be thankful when we do NOT find ourselves with a 9 hour walk home from work after an earthquake…What do you do that helps you get a different perspective? I’d love to hear from you.