The Principle: Cruising Altitude
I formally learned about this handy principle in college and recently found that it's a part of David Allen's Getting Things Done (GTD) Method. Isn't it funny when you learn that there's a scientific/psychological/universal explanation to something you've figured out on your own but couldn't properly articulate? I could have been a millionaire by now.
Anyway, this principle, about the view from 30,000 feet, boils down to essentially this: NOTHING EVEN MATTERS AT ALL (cue Lauryn Hill).
For the more visually stimulated, see Buzzfeed's illustration:
Remember that job that seemed so important and you didn't get it and you thought you'd be devastated FOREVER?
Remember that person you dated who broke your heart and you vowed to NEVER love again?
Remember that article of clothing you just had to have and would die if you didn't?
Or maybe that championship game your team lost and you thought you'd never bounce back?
No? Neither does anyone else.
On a day-to-day basis and in the moment, we view everything as a HUGE deal. We tend to blow things out of proportion, exaggerate the potential long-term consequences, and we give challenges and milestones more meaning than they deserve. Sure, some situations can be life-changing or exhilarating or extremely sad, but taking a big picture view, from say about 30,000 feet in the air, it looks like absolutely nothing. Our petty squabbles and dramatized reactions resemble mere dots (if that) in the landscape.
When I was a teenager, I thought I would marry someone with the last name Salty*. Stephanie Salty, really? I was so heartbroken when we stopped talking.
When I failed the New York bar, I thought my life was over. Obviously EVERYONE passed except me and they were secretly (or not so secretly) shaming and judging me.
When I didn't receive an answer from a dream job that I had been idolizing about in my head for YEARS, despite someone promising to usher my application straight to the boss' desk, I was devastated.
A week, month, and year later, these events and my extreme reactions were gone from my memory. If in those moments I had looked at these situations from the context of "How does this matter in the long run? How does this look from 30,000 feet in the air? Where do I go from here?", my perspective would have drastically changed.
What to do, what to do
Facing a challenge? Received some bad news? You can't get out of your head and are wallowing in your reaction? Try these simple steps:
1. Chill. Breathe. It's ok to own and feel your feelings but don't wallow in them. Think about how you'll feel a year from now.
2. Look up. Imagine someone in a plane 30,000 feet in the air looking down at you. What do they see?
3. Take action. Separate the fact of what happened and how you felt about/reacted to it. Think about how this situation fits into the bigger picture that is your entire life. How can you move on from this? Take baby steps (or leaps and bounds if you can) to place the situation in context and continue living.
One of my favorites in the whole wide world talks about a moment when he realized that a huge (in his mind) goal that he'd set WASN'T actually a big deal. He quotes his mentor as saying "I have a feeling, that YOU have a feeling, that this is a big deal. And it’s not!"; and he's right.
While you are certainly significant, whatever challenge you are faced with is not; NBD.