Out of Left Field

“Sometimes when something just comes out of left field, it actually becomes a defining moment in your life.”

Over the past few years I have come to enjoy baseball more and more.  I think what impresses me most is the reaction time exhibited by so many players.  The third baseman who dives to his left and snags a line drive, the shortstop who deftly handles the grounder and initiates the double play, and of course any player who can hit a ball thrown at over 100 mph from 90 feet away.  But my favorite play occurs when there is a man on third and the batter sends a fly ball into left field.  The runner holds and then breaks for home as the left fielder makes the catch and follows up with a perfect throw to the catcher.  The umpire yells, “You’re out!”  Surprised, the runner shakes his head; he never saw it coming, but it did; right out of left field.  Did you ever have something come at you right out of left field?  Were you surprised? How did you handle it?

Emergency situations require immediate action, however there are times that life has a way of throwing curves at us.  Things are moving along better than we could have imagined and then suddenly, when we least expect it, something happens and it seems as if our world has been turned upside down.  What is important to remember is that it is how we respond that will determine both the short and long-term impact of the unexpected event.  The best way to begin is with a controlled mindset:

  • Stay Calm:  Believe it or not one of the first things you should do is to take a moment to stop and take deep breaths.  This action will send signals to your body to stop releasing stress hormones which cause emotions like panic, fear and anxiety.  Avoid action, use this time to simply consider the news you have just received and come to grips with it.

  • Be Rational:  Don’t react, make judgements, decisions or take quick actions.  This becomes the time to examine what has occurred.  If others are involved, seek counsel.  Collective thought and discussion opens the door to new thoughts, perspectives and opportunities.

  • Accept the Situation:  It’s important to develop acceptance of unexpected situations. Once we accept and acknowledge what has happened, we are in a better position to begin the recovery process and will probably find things easier.

  • Avoid Worst-Case Thinking:  When we are faced with unexpected situations and fear begins to set-in, it becomes very easy to focus on worst-case scenarios.  Our anxiety builds as we consider only the worst that could happen.  The solution is to be found in also considering the best-case scenario.  Create a list that ranks possible outcomes from best to worst and then focus on creating a plan that will enable achievement of the best realistic outcome.

  • Gather Your Human Resources:  Rarely are you totally on your own.  Identify others whose insights you trust and value.  Encourage them to provide perspectives and input. This is the time to listen actively (listen, paraphrase, and reflect back what was said).

  • Find a Strategic Path Forward:  With your team, identify your realistic, best-case scenario and then develop a strategic plan that will enable you to reach it.  Although the ‘unexpected’ situation may seem daunting, teamwork, open communication and making well-balanced decisions becomes the pathway to coming out the other side.

These are not just words on a paper.  Over the next few weeks and months I plan to employ this process to address my most recent left field experience.  I currently serve as the head of our church vestry.  The actual title is “Senior Warden”, and in that capacity I serve as the ecclesiastical leader of the parish.  Essentially this means that in the absence of a rector, it becomes my responsibility to conduct the day to day business of the church until such time as a permanent rector is found.  This past Wednesday our priest advised us that medical reasons now necessitate his retirement, and he will be leaving us effective August 1. That one came out of left field; he is our beloved Father John and it is devastating to think of our Church absent his leadership.  But we have a strong vestry and congregation.  While we cannot control the situation that has befallen us, we can control our response, and let Father John’s legacy be found in how he enabled us to continue and build upon the ministries he established.  We love you Father John; enjoy your retirement!