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Up for the Down Stroke: Getting Out of a Funk

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Up for the Down Stroke: Getting Out of a Funk

Kelly Studer

KellyStuder_Sparrow.jpg

I made a decision several months ago to spend 6 weeks living and working in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  I wanted to see if I could effectively run my business in a foreign country, making it “location independent.” In fact, it was one of the reason I started my own business.  I wanted to honor my values of adventure and freedom in a major way. Brilliant idea, right?  Everyone, including me, thought so.  “How totally awesome!” “I wish I could do something like that.” And the occasional, “Seriously? How does that work?  Do you have clients in Argentina?”  No, I don’t have any clients in Argentina (yet).  I have Skype, Google Hangout, and Facetime!

I jumped on a plane on October 19th.

Everything about it was supposed to be amazing.  I’d gain a perspective that would open up new ways of seeing things.  I’d be inspired by a different culture and way of living and come home with tons of motivation and a strategy for 2014!

By the end of week one in Buenos Aires, nothing about this adventure felt inspiring or motivating. It was like the air had been let out of my tires. I felt lonely, isolated, confused, and wondering if I made a mistake.  I couldn’t even find anything to like about Buenos Aires.  I slipped into a depression-like funk.  And of course, I was mad at myself for my “pathetic behavior” which only made things worse.  Oh, and I caught a nasty cold.  No surprise there.

Yet, this is exactly what I needed.  I begged for and fantasized about this change and had forgotten about the slump that naturally comes with it.

Whether you’re exploring a career transition, taking some well-deserved time off, just started a new job, or made a recent big change in your life, it’s not uncommon to feel fired up and optimistic one minute, and the next start to question everything when it’s not turning out your way.  When unemployed, it’s even easier to slip in this funk for longer periods of time.

Big changes bring discomfort.  The experiences and feelings that come with it are rarely convenient or welcome and they certainly leave us confused and frustrated.  Our instincts tell us to flee.

This is not the answer.  The discomfort tells us that there is something unknown to discover. What is waiting for us on the other side is learning, growth, and beauty.  The comfort zone is full of stagnation and boredom.  We have to remind ourselves us of this when we’re in the unpleasant mess of it all.

Because I was not going to let this Argentina trip be a bust, I started experimenting.  Here’s what I discovered that ultimately worked for me and I hope will for you too:

  1. FEEL IT – The worst thing you can do is sweep your feelings under the rug and pretend you’re not having them.  Let the emotions wash over you. Lean into it and be curious about what’s there.  Acknowledge how you feel and give yourself permission to be scared, sad, angry or disappointed.  There’s nothing wrong with feeling this way.  You’re human! Ignoring these feelings, on the other hand, will not help you face the discomfort and move forward. You’ll stay stuck and frustrated.
  2. USE A LIFE LINE – This is not a time to figure it out on your own or pretend you’re not going through a rough patch.  The only person who expects you to be “strong” is YOU.   The strongest thing you can do is reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or coach who is willing to listen and help you get a new perspective.  You need someone to reflect what they are seeing and offer you some alternatives.  Nothing helps you get out of your own shit faster than connecting with someone who loves you and wants nothing but your happiness.
  3. BE PLAYFUL – Come up with one fun, playful thing you can do each day when you’re in a funk.  It doesn’t have to be anything big or time-consuming. Get into a playful mindset (dare I say, silly?) and then act on it. For example, I decided that I needed to get out of my apartment (I was going crazy being all cooped up) and hit the famous ice cream shop on the corner. On the way out, the Spanish-speaking doorman tried to strike up a conversation but I don’t speak a word of Spanish.  On a whim, I tried to ask his favorite ice cream flavor so I could bring it back to him as a surprise. He was so happy and appreciative.  That brief 10-minutes of fun buoyed my spirits.  Bringing fun and playfulness into your day is like experiencing a cloudy day when the sun breaks through.  When you feeling really low, ask yourself, “What’s something fun or unexpected I could do right now?” Then, do it!
  4. RECOVER WITH POSITIVITY – We’ll never avoid slumps and periods of extreme discomfort.  The key is recovery…and the faster, the better.  The bizarre thing is that we often want to stay in the valley of emotional negativity even though we hate it there.  Why? It’s easier to be hard on ourselves, feel hopeless or tell ourselves stories that we can’t do something.  Ironically, the uncomfortable thing is to think positively, be kind to ourselves, and picture how we really want things to go.  Recover back to positivity…and fast.  You don’t have to believe the positive thoughts at first but keep focusing on what you want to be true (not what you think is true).

Jack Sparrow was spot on.  These 4 steps won’t always work the first time around, so you may need to rinse and repeat to get a new attitude.  It’s not easy to get a new attitude!  It took me about 3 cycles to finally break free, watch the clouds part and feel the sunshine again.  I persevered because everything turned around magnificently and it will for you, too, if you give it a shot and get the upper hand on that funk.

Which of these techniques have you tried or are considering?  Which one(s) would help you overcome your funk?  Share your brilliant ideas in the comments!