Tag Archives: control

Lessons Learned from Irma

by Kassandra Lamb

A week ago, the southeastern U.S. was hit by one of the worst storms ever, Hurricane Irma. It broke all kinds of records and affected multiple states as well as devastating islands in the Caribbean.

And my husband and I were in its path in Florida, as were many of our friends and colleagues. Each of us had to make a series of decisions—ones that would affect our property and/or our safety. Many lessons were learned, some of which can be applied to life in general.

Here are some of those lessons:

1) Hope for the best; prepare for the worst.
Nothing worse than a tropical storm has hit our city in north central Florida since the 1960s. So our residents tend to take it for granted that a true hurricane will never reach us. Everyone took in their lawn furniture and stocked up on bottled water, batteries and canned goods (standard tropical storm prep), but we were initially the only ones in our neighborhood who boarded up our windows. Better safe than sorry is our motto (and we have crappy single-pane windows), but we noticed a certain amount of denial among our neighbors.

Telling yourself that it won’t be that bad is an okay strategy from a mental health standpoint; it will help keep you calm. But from a safety standpoint, it can become dangerous.
pile of necessities

I told myself we would be fine, but I still packed a bag of clothes and toiletries and made a pile of other necessities in one corner of the family room, just in case we needed to evacuate. And I called around and made a reservation for a motel room near Atlanta, back when the storm was slated to go up the east coast.

2) Stay calm and stay informed.
The good thing about hurricanes is that they move relatively slowly. Modern weather prediction techniques can keep us informed of their progress days before they make landfall. The bad thing about hurricanes is that they are fickle. They change course, pick up speed, slow down, strengthen, weaken, and sometimes even go around in circles (as Jose recently did out in the Atlantic).

Like many other important decisions (like who to vote for), the decision about how to respond to a hurricane is not one to be made based solely on emotion, nor is it one that can be made and then forgotten. We need to stay alert for new information that might affect that decision.

This goes against human nature to some extent. Once we’ve made up our minds about something, we tend to defend that position against new input. I’ve talked about this confirmation bias before. It can lead to all kinds of problems, but in the case of an impending hurricane, it can get you killed.

3) We are not in control.
We humans hate feeling out of control. We’ll do just about anything to maintain the illusion of control. But the reality is that Mother Nature is bigger and stronger than mere mortals.

And when she decides to hit us with the mother of all storms, we need to get it that we are not in charge.

Some people opted to stay, even in the most vulnerable sections of the state, out of concern for their property. They wanted to be there in case something happened to their homes, so they could somehow protect their belongings.

I get that feeling.  If I stay, I can somehow control things is the underlying belief.

I almost succumbed to it. What if the roof came off of our 1970s-era house (built before current building codes)?  Water would get in and ruin everything.

Then it dawned on me that my being there would not stop the roof from coming off, and my being there would not stop the rain from coming in. My being there would just get me injured or killed if the roof came off!

4) Belongings aren’t as important as we think they are.
Thinking I might pack up the most valued objects to take with us, I walked around my house and looked at my grandmother’s antique furniture in the living room and my mother’s Japanese tea set in the china cabinet and the jewelry armoire in my bedroom that contains a lifetime of accumulated baubles, many of which hold sentimental as well as monetary value. I didn’t have room for more than a box or two of things, once our suitcases, ourselves and the dog were loaded in our small SUV. Should I forget about all those other things and just grab the photos?

I opted not to try to take anything. I realized none of those things were as important as our lives.

5) Stay flexible.
We’re back to that confirmation bias. We can’t let pride get in the way of changing our minds when facts change. Two days before the storm was to hit, the predicted path was changed from the east coast to the middle of the state (and moving on to Atlanta from there). Although this meant the storm would come right over us, it also meant it would have been on land long enough to have weakened significantly.

We breathed a tentative sigh and decided we could stay. Irma would be nothing worse than a tropical storm when she reached us, and we were more than prepared for that. We canceled the motel room (which was now in the direct path of the storm). But something told me we shouldn’t unpack our bags just yet.

Good thing because during the day on Saturday, the path shifted again to the possibility of the storm coming up the west coast and the prediction for our area was upgraded from tropical storm to Category 1 (still tolerable), and then later to Cat 1 with stronger gusts equivalent to a Cat 2 to 3.

predicted path of Irma

There was no guarantee our roof could withstand that. (See the “M” next to “2 AM Mon.” We are slightly northeast from that M, which stands for Major Hurricane. Ack!!)

At 8:15 p.m. Saturday, we made the decision to leave. All the local shelters were full by then, but we had over thirty-six hours to get far enough north to be out of the worst of it. And if we drove at night, that was doable. (The worst thing one can do in a hurricane is leave at the last minute. If the storm catches you in your car on the road, you may very well be swept away and drowned.)

Because we had already packed, the car was loaded and we were pulling out of our driveway by 9:35. As we had hoped, traffic was light and we made good time. I was surprised that it wasn’t that hard to stay awake. Adrenaline is far superior to caffeine as a stimulant!!

6) Cherish your friends.
From the road, I called my friend in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (that had originally been in the direct path of the storm, but now was not). “Hi. We’re coming to you. Be there for breakfast.”

“Well, okay then,” she said, sounding just a little startled. “I’ll make up the bed in the guest room.”

Afterwards, I realized what a blessing it is to have a friend like that, someone I knew would open her home to us and I didn’t even have to ask. It was okay to just assume we were welcome to come.

Later she told me that her first thought when she hung up the phone was, “Thank God they’re getting out of harm’s way.”

Nurture those kind of friendships. They are far more precious than any antique table or pearl necklace.

7) Don’t waste time on regrets.
When we announced on Facebook the next day that we’d opted to get out, one of my husband’s friends suggested we would feel like fools if it turned out to not be that bad. Hubs’s reaction was, “No, we will feel relieved.”

And we were, because it wasn’t that bad. The storm was a weak Cat 1 by the time it got to our town and the damage was less than was suffered in 2004 in Frances, which was a tropical storm (but a big, slow-moving one that dumped a ton of rain) by the time it got to us.

We had no regrets about leaving, however. We knew it was the best decision we could make with the info we had at the time. And we managed to miss the whole power failure thing. Our electricity was off from Sunday p.m. until Wednesday a.m. We came back Wednesday afternoon. 🙂

Others had perhaps more powerful reasons to feel regret, like the young man who couldn’t convince his mother to leave her trailer home in the Keys. She and the trailer are now gone.

When he was interviewed on TV, he was crying, saying, “Why didn’t I try harder to convince her?” But when the interviewer asked if there was anything he could have said that would have made her leave, he admitted there wasn’t. I hope and pray that he can take that to heart. If there was nothing he could’ve said, trying harder wouldn’t have worked.

Which brings me to the most powerful lesson of all…

8) Sometimes we should do what we might not think is necessary, just to ease the worries of those who love us.
So many of our friends expressed relief when we said we’d evacuated! And we had people we cared about in vulnerable parts of Florida who didn’t evacuate. Thank the good Lord they are okay, but we worried throughout the whole storm.

It isn’t always just about us. Unless we are totally positive that their worries are unfounded, maybe we should listen—and at least consider how they will feel, the regrets they will struggle with, if something bad happens to us.

Because, as I said above, better safe than sorry!

Do any of these lessons resonate for you? Were you or those you love affected by Irma?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

The Tipping Point and the Serenity Prayer

by Kassandra Lamb

This is the time of year when we set new goals, and/or recommit to old ones. Well-known blogger Jami Gold recently pointed out that some goals we have control over, and others we don’t. It’s important to realize the difference. Otherwise failing to achieve the we-can’t-control-this goals can be very discouraging.

This post is aimed mainly at my fellow authors, but I think it has relevance for everyone. For each of us in our work life, there are goals we can achieve via our hard work, and there are goals that we don’t have direct control over.

woman sitting on the side of a hill

Sometimes it just seems so hard to keep climbing (photo by Vaikoovery CC BY 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

And in most people’s careers, there is some goal that marks the beginning of true success–the point where you may still be climbing the ladder but the climb gets easier, and you become more confident you will eventually reach your ultimate career goals.

We’ll be much more able to climb to that “tipping point” with our sanity intact if we can differentiate between the controllable and not so controllable goals and outcomes along the way.

The Part I Couldn’t Control
For authors, the goal that is most out of our control is whether or not people buy our books. We can do things to control the quality of our stories–take craft classes, hire good editors, etc.–but a good story doesn’t guarantee sales.

When I first got serious about my writing, I suffered from a common ailment amongst writers–Write It and They Will Buy syndrome.

Hmm, not that easy. It isn’t enough to be talented at what you do (although that is an essential first step). Often, others have to notice what we are doing in order for us to receive the rewards we are hoping for.

So how to put yourself out there to be noticed without coming across as obnoxious?

The Part I Could Control
For authors, we are told to engage with people on social media and “build a platform.” So I did that. Another piece of advice was to get lots of stories out there in front of the public. Not a problem. I was already writing a series, and publishing two or more books a year.

Yet another idea was to do giveaways to get readers hooked and get some reviews for your books. So I did that. Doing blog tours and guest posts on other people’s blogs was also a good idea, I was told. Did that too.

Once you have enough books out in a series, yet another strategy is to make the first book permanently free. So I did that.

There's a reason why it's called The Serenity Prayer--because that's the tough part, accepting what we can't control (photo by Jerry "Woody" CC-BY-SA 2.0)

There’s a reason why it’s called The Serenity Prayer–because that’s the tough part, accepting what we can’t control (image by Jerry “Woody” CC-BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

The Other Part I Couldn’t Control
Each time I did these things, I saw a bump in sales. But nothing to knock your socks off.

It was getting harder and harder to keep my spirits up. I told myself to think of it as a hobby (even though I’m quite serious about it). I would be writing anyway, because I love it. So if sales never took off, so be it. (Fortunately I have a pension; most writers don’t.)

That helped provide the serenity to cope better, but it didn’t solve the problem of sluggish sales.

Then I started hearing authors talking about their tipping point. That at some point something happened that tipped them over the edge, visibility-wise, and their sales were off and running. In each of these cases, there were components the author could control and some they couldn’t.

For some, it was getting reviewed by a book blogger with a large following (could submit to the blogger; no guarantee they would read the book and like it). For others, it was having their books associated with those of a big-name author in the “People Who Bought This Also Bought” box on Amazon (sometimes via a giveaway; often dumb luck). For one of our misterio press authors, it was investing in an expensive ad on BookBub, one of the best e-mail subscription websites for promoting books.

Several authors said that their sales turned a corner when they had published three books in their series. Others said it took five books before they experienced their tipping point.

Book 7 in my series was published last fall. Sales were okay but still less than stellar. I was starting to get discouraged again.

Then I bit the bullet and submitted that perma-free first book to BookBub–again something I could control, but not whether or not the book was accepted (they are picky and in high demand) nor whether the ad was successful. The book was accepted, which reassured me that the problem wasn’t my writing. I gulped a little when I paid the invoice for the ad, and then I started praying.

screen shot of perma-free first book

90 reviews and counting; still #5 in free psychological suspense category

The results were a bit slow to show up–a huge number of downloads of the free book, but only a medium-sized bump in sales of the others. That first book started getting a whole lot of reviews though, the vast majority of them good to great.

I was about to resign myself to this booby prize of more good reviews when things started happening. Sales of Book 2 in the series took off, and then Book 3, etc. I could track readers’ progress through the series. With the first book now high on the free lists at Amazon, thousands of downloads continued each week, and the other books are still selling well.

The climb gets easier after the tipping point  (photo by Derek Harper CC-BY-SA 2.0)

The climb gets easier after the tipping point (photo by Derek Harper CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Hallelujah, I have reached my tipping point!!

So to everyone, but especially to my fellow authors who may still be struggling along, I say don’t give up!

Keep trying different things that you can control, until something happens to propel you past that tipping point.

How about you? Are you clear about which of your goals you have control over and which you don’t? Have you reached the tipping point in your career?

 

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

“BOSTON STRONG”–YES!!

I had intended to finish my stress management series today, but in light of the events in Boston last week, I’m going to do a variation on that intended post.

(image by LADreamzinc — CC-SA-3.0 license, Wikimedia Commons)

The post I had planned would have talked about how our cognitive and emotional interpretation of an event makes a huge difference in how stressful that event is for us. I will talk more about that topic soon.

One of the biggest factors in that cognitive/emotional interpretation is how much control we feel we have over a particular stressor and its impacts. We human beings hate to not be in control. I would venture to say that feeling out of control is the worst feeling we can experience. It scares the bejeezus out of us!

We will even sometimes blame ourselves for a negative event that wasn’t our fault, just so we can have some feeble sense that we could have controlled the outcome if we’d just realized what was coming. (If I’d gone a different route that day, the car accident wouldn’t have happened.) For even a horrible feeling such as guilt is preferable to facing the reality that the event was truly beyond our control.

Another pitfall when we are running from that reality is to blame others, especially those in authority. Right now the country is united in its grief and sorrow for the victims of the Boston Marathon explosions and their families. But I know the reports will start on the TV news soon… the investigations, the demands that “they” do something to keep this from happening again.

Do what? Stop having marathons? Or football games, or golf tournaments? Cordon off the entire area and not let anyone be nearby, so there is no one on the sidelines cheering the participants on? But what’s to stop some nutcase (and make no mistake about it, these men were nutcases who were using their religion for their own sick purpose) from planting a bomb the night before, or the week before?

Of course, “they” should do what they can–increase security, bring in the bomb-sniffing dogs, etc. But the reality is that some nutcase could, at any moment, disrupt your life or mine and bring tragedy into it because of their own twisted agenda.

So what should we do about that? Exactly what the citizens of Boston are doing! Going about their business, refusing to give in to fear.

We cannot always control what happens to us. We can control how we lead our lives. If we lead with fears about what might happen, then the terrorists and nutcases have already won! If we refuse to give in to that fear and live our lives to their fullest every moment, than we are having the best life we can have in an uncertain world where not everything is controllable.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad thing that we humans want to be in control. That may be the single most driving force behind our progress as a species. And we have a lot more control over our environments and our destinies than we once did.

The winner of the 13th Boston Marathon in 1910, during a time when people routinely died of pneumonia because antibiotics had not yet been discovered.

But I do wonder sometimes… Has the control that science and technology’s given us over so many once uncontrollable things led us to a false belief that we should somehow be able to control everything?

I doubt that will happen, at least in our lifetimes, and probably never. We really need to come to grips with the reality that we cannot control everything, such as hurricanes and lunatics. But we can control how we respond to the natural disasters and the fanatics who intentionally create unnatural disasters. We can band together as the people of Boston have so heroically exemplified.

And we can yell, “Boston Strong!” from the rooftops. And never let fear win!

Celebration in Boston after the capture of the 2nd suspect (photo by Grk1011 — CC-SA-3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

 

On a lighter note, if you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been around much for the last week, it’s because I was in Maryland painting our summer place up there (with the help of my wonderful brother). I promised pictures so if you hop over to my website, you can see the transformation of my shabby shack into a cute cottage (it looks like mint chocolate chip ice cream with chocolate syrup on top 🙂 )

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

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