A few months ago, I was taking a “mental health” day, yes we all need one of those every once in a while.  For those of you who are not familiar with the concept, it is even more important in this day and age.  We are constantly ON… on our phones, computers, internet and even Twitter.  We are connected and checking to make sure we do not miss anything.  I had to stop checking my email at the stop light – NOT recommended; after all, I had just left my office five minutes ago at 9 p.m.  What sane person was on email then (SMILE!).  Anyway, I digress.  A “mental health” day is a day in which you seek to restore some element of your mental perspectives on the world.  It is not a sick day, although elements of your life can make you sick…it is a day that you just take a break. This is particularly true as we work at home during this global pandemic.

On this particular day (pre-pandemic), I was eating a taco salad on the terrace of a local restaurant. I had just returned from visiting a random small town to explore and see the little shops there.  This little adventure was something I always talk about doing, as we are always rushing through the town to get to our actual destination.  I had considered making the small town THE destination and exploring…this day I had finally done just that…..

Anyway, the terrace looked out over a newly created urban-like community common area.  It was a grassy area – covered with picture perfect, artificial turf.  The common area was situated between two large buildings with new condos and apartments for the early career individual or the downsizing empty nesters.  It was there, on the grassy area, that a set of parents were “training” their toddler to walk in a very interesting way.  I remember urging my son to walk upright, he balanced his awkward gait with a combination of flailing arms and jerky head movements.  We defined success as the smooth progression of putting one foot in front of the other to walk between two adults.  There was the proverbial surface that he grabbed in the process. This chair, wall or the leg of a steady, supportive parent was essential to his “progress”.

This set of parents had a different approach.  The mother placed the child on all fours on the ground and then she moved away. The child used a combination of hands and feet to rock into an upright position, then they started to walk toward the mother.  At that point, the mother promptly picked up the child and put them back on all fours on the ground.  I thought that she did not want them to fall and was encouraging the child to crawl.  After this happened several times, I figured out what was going on! The mother was intentionally teaching the child to get up from a “fallen” position.  Her assumption was that walking was not the most important aspect of getting around  – it was understanding how to get up from a position that may appear to be a position of disadvantage.  Note – she was NOT teaching the child how to fall, that would, of course happen.  It was more important to practice getting up!

The lesson here – how much attention do we pay to the concept of getting up from a fallen position?  This fallen position could be physical, mental, intellectual or spiritual in nature.   I know that we focus on NOT falling down, putting mechanisms in place to assure that even when we look like we are falling that no one really sees us in this awkward, vulnerable position.  I was recently putting together a workshop for STEM professionals on the concept of failure and how we could learn from the failures from others.  When I pitched this concept to a few colleagues and asked if they could share their failures with a group so they could learn from them – they were reluctant! After all – who wants to share failures with others?

I wonder, what does practicing getting up from a fallen position look like?  After all, we do not want to spend too much time or energy on this.  Right?  Ok, here is a place to start.  Let’s say I am interested in a position that will stretch my current skill set. Perhaps it will require me to present on information that I am not really familiar with in the course of the interview.  Perhaps I could think about the worst case scenario and how I will extract myself out of that situation.  I could even imagine how I’d feel if I got a question that I could not answer during the presentation, I could mentally put myself in a “fallen” position.  Then I could practice getting up again. Yes, getting back on solid ground in the middle of the interview. Let’s be honest, people are often looking for those who are creative in their responses to challenge, innovative in their problem solving AND able to articulately communicate a logical path forward.  Putting ourselves in a mental “fallen position” enables us to practice rising up towards success.

What is it that you need to practice getting up from in advance of a real “fallen” situation? Practice and be ready

Remember, just like that little child on the protected grass – you really CAN WALK!!!