Career SkillsLessons on Leadership

A Sci-Fi Author’s Advice on Taking a Pause During Stressful Moments

By Jacquelyn Adams

“And then, Tress took the singular step that separated her from people in most stories. The act, it might be said, that defined her as a hero. She did something so incredible, I can barely describe its majesty. I should consider this more, Tress thought to herself, and not jump to conclusions…. Perhaps you are confused why I, your humble storyteller, would make a fuss about this… We hunt for bravery, cleverness, heroism. And find no shortage of such virtues. Legends are silly with them. But the person who is willing to reconsider their assumptions? The hero who can sit down and reevaluate their life? Well, now that is a gemstone that truly glitters, friend.”

– Brandon Sanderson, Tress of the Emerald Sea

Here I am starting another article with a quote from fantasy and science fiction author Brandon Sanderson, but honestly, I feel no shame. His insights are not only on point, but also really timely. In a culture of clapbacks, Mama bear reactions, and asking Reddit after the fact AITA — it seems we have forgotten that we can pause and think before acting.

Many of us thrive on the high of instant reactions. We would prefer to be considered witty or heroic, rather than purposeful. The former is so often the easier path. It is simpler and can feel so good in the moment to ride our own wave of emotions. So, let’s take a moment to stop and think about stopping to think.

Choose our battles

There can be so much temptation to dive right in, whether the situation is good or bad. Perhaps we are in a disagreement and venting our righteous frustration. We may have spotted an opportunity and want to dive headfirst into a new venture. Or maybe we feel compelled to correct someone. So many instances make our brains scream, “Must respond now!” However… that’s just not true. And in some of those circumstances, we may not even need to respond at all. We could wait. We could think. Further along in that section of the book, Sanderson remarks on wars that could have been prevented, romances that would have avoided tragedy, and adventures that would have been protracted if people had thought, asked questions, and just used a bit of common sense. Maybe we won’t stop any wars, but if we pause and use that time to pick our battles, our day-to-day lives would be a bit less quarrelsome.

Gather our resources

The next thing that we can do when we pause is to gather our resources. We can decide if an outside opinion would be helpful or if we would benefit from having a sounding board for our ideas. If we are frustrated, we can vent to come back with a clearer head. If we are making any assumptions, we can take this time to assess whether they are valid or faulty before diving back in. If we are considering starting a new project, we can determine the time, energy and finances required before we commit. When we pause, we can take time to assess different angles so that when we re-engage, we can do so from higher ground, rather than from whatever haphazard terrain we stood on before.

Re-engage with purpose

Even once we have gathered our resources, there is still more that we can do to re-engage effectively. For example, if we pause during a disagreement, we can try to plant seeds of peace before we start. This could be done by acknowledging our respect for the other party or addressing faulty assumptions or errors. If either party is tired and irritable when we take a step away, we can return when we are refreshed. Additionally, the last thing in the day or first thing in the morning can increase anxiety surrounding the conversation or project, so we can choose a more convenient time. It is helpful to pick a time when there aren’t too many other demands. When we re-engage with purpose, we can read the room and choose a moment that sets us up for success.

All of this only serves to remind me of a quote I love from Holocaust survivor Dr. Viktor Frankl, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Like our beloved storyteller, Sanderson states, “I am drowning in bravery, cleverness, and heroism. Instead, kindly give me a little common sense. At that moment, Tress was downright majestic.”


Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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