Deep In The Well

When you’re in a bad situation for a long time, you may find yourself losing sight of anything else.

Imagine you’re deep within a well. Trapped down there. Down where you are is very dark and unpleasant. Sometimes you can see the sky, but only a tiny amount at a time and only straight up. You couldn’t tell what color the flowers were, even if they were right next to the well. You couldn’t tell how high the grass was or who might be walking by.

In the real world what happens is that we start to generalize our bad situation, believing it to be universal when in fact it might be quite specific to us. If you have a spouse that constantly puts you down, you might start to just think that’s an inherent feature of all spouses. If you have a boss that is thoroughly dismissive of your input for long enough, you might just start to say, “Bosses, amirite? They all just throw your ideas out the window!” Note the subtle switch – you’ve gone from complaining about your boss specifically, to making a broad statement about all managers.

It’s understandable. People often value “fairness” over absolute good. Because we’re good at comparing two things but bad at objectively evaluating one, we tend to find even miserable circumstances more bearable as long as we can’t see anyone who has it better than we do. So if we suffer from a particularly miserable circumstance long enough, our brain just starts assuming everyone is equally miserable in that sphere – everyone’s boss dismisses their ideas with a disdainful smear, right?! It’s a defense mechanism.

But it also eats hope.

You see, if you don’t think a circumstance better than yours exists out there, then it’s a very short mental leap to thinking that no better circumstance could exist. You resign yourself to your fate and cope in other ways, but you don’t try to make it better.

Climbing out of the well can be very hard. But it’s easier if you know how deep the well really is (as opposed to how deep you think it is), and it helps if you can put up a periscope and get a glimpse around.

Talk to people without imposing your view. Don’t start a conversation about careers by complaining about your own – start by asking neutral questions. Read positive accounts of other stories from within the sphere in which you’re miserable. Learn that the whole world isn’t trapped down in the well with you.

You may find someone who can lower a rope.

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