Sprint-Style Crises vs. Marathon-Style Crises

This came up in a group I’m in on FB the other day. In my opinion there are two types of crises, sprint-style and marathon-style, and they require very different approaches. Which is why the first thing I do when something bad happens is ask myself if this is a long-term situation or a short-term situation.

Let me give an example.

Back when I was skydiving I had what’s called an off landing. Basically, I pulled my chute too late to cross the runway and get back to the designated landing area so had to find an alternate landing space. They teach you during AFF training what to look for. Be careful of power lines, don’t land on a road where a car can hit you, don’t land on the runway where a plane can hit you. Watch for fence lines. Avoid trees. Etc.

That was a sprint-style crisis. Between the time I recognized the issue and it was over less than five minutes passed. (One of my best landings ever, by the way.)

Examples of other sprint-style crises are an appendicitis, gallbladder surgery, and losing a job when you’re quickly able to get another one.

It doesn’t have to be a very short-term situation like my skydiving example. I usually would call it a sprint-style crisis if it resolves in six weeks or so.

Marathon-style crises are different. They require endurance. They’re long-lasting. They may have no end in sight. (And at some point you can actually transition from a marathon-style crisis to a new normal where things are stable and predictable but they’ll just never be what they were.)

I think of my dad’s illness as a marathon-style crisis. He dealt with it for forty years and it never stabilized into a new normal. Over the course of that forty years he was in steady decline with occasional sprint-style crises sprinkled in. So he’d be dialyzing three times a week, going along living his life, and then he’d get pericarditis or an infected hematoma on his hip or, my dad being my dad, hit by a discus that some dipshit chose to throw straight up in the air.

With a sprint-style crisis you can put everything on hold and focus on the current issue. You need your appendix removed you call your boss and say I’m having emergency surgery, I’ll be out for a week, and they say okay. Everyone rushes to your side, wishes you well, you have the surgery, you recover. All attention is focused on the issue and then it’s over and you move on. You lock down your attention and go into a hyper-vigilant “must deal with this now” sort of state until the situation is solved.

But you can’t do that with a marathon-style crisis. A marathon-style crisis requires juggling. Because the world continues despite your crisis. You can’t call the boss and say, “Hey I have cancer and will be dealing with the treatment for the next two years” and have them say okay.

And when it’s a personal marathon-style crisis you find that people can’t stay focused on your suffering long-term. You get some initial attention and then most drift away or stop asking about what’s going on. Or expect you to talk about something else other than the crisis as well. Attention does not stay focused on you.

In a marathon-style crisis you have to deal with the crisis while also managing your relationships and finances as if you weren’t in that crisis. You can’t be hyper-vigilant. You can’t be 100% locked down, perfect, and focused on the issue in a marathon-style crisis. It’s simply not sustainable.

The reason I bring this up today is because in that group someone said they’d hit the wall recently with dealing with being quarantined. They were the perfect spouse, parent, etc. for the last month. They’d given up their home office to their spouse, they’d made homemade gifts, they’d Zoomed with friends, they’d kept up on the news, etc. etc. And then one day they just broke. A month of perfection followed by feeling like everything was falling apart.

When I saw that comment my immediate thought was that this person thought they were in a sprint-style crisis and then realized they were in a marathon-style crisis.

Which can happen. You don’t always know what you’re facing at the start.

My buddy who has Stage IV cancer went through this. When he was diagnosed he had two large brain tumors as well as a lung tumor, skin cancer, and I think a kidney tumor. (That last one might have come later.)

When he agreed to treatment he thought he was in a sprint-style crisis. He thought he’d give it the good old college try and be dead within three months.

But then a year passed and he wasn’t dead. He wasn’t healed either. He found himself in a marathon-style crisis.

He’s three years in now taking daily oral chemo that’s going to work until it doesn’t. Which means living his life as best he can. He had to find a pace he could sustain long-term.

Because you can’t put aside life in a marathon-style crisis. You have to have goals. You have to have purpose. You have to move forward while knowing that it can all fall apart again tomorrow.

My buddy was a skydiving instructor but he can no longer do that job, so he had to find a new one. Because in a marathon-style crisis all the bills keep coming in and need to be paid.

What you do and how you do it all depend on the timeline you’re dealing with. Which is why my advice when facing a crisis is to assess where you are.

Is this a sprint? Is it a marathon? Is it a new normal?

And then plan accordingly. Pace yourself for the nature of the challenge.

 

Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is a former securities regulator, registered stockbroker (although only briefly), and consultant on regulatory and risk-related matters for large financial institutions with expertise in the areas of anti-money laundering regulation, mutual funds, and credit rating agencies. Since 2013 M.L. has also been a published author under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres.

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