All Hands On Deck

There is a scene in one of my favorite movies, Margin Call, that rings true for these times. The movie is about the financial crisis of 2008 and how a math wiz at a financial firm discovers, in the middle of the night, before the rest of the financial world, just how worthless their holdings are about to become. The firm’s boss, John Tuld (played magnificently by Jeremy Irons) flies in on his personal helicopter for an emergency 4 AM meeting. His command: sell everything at the opening bell in the morning.

Sam Rogers (played by Kevin Spacey), the boss of the trading floor, didn’t want to sell everything because of the consequences – financial chaos and a severing of long term relationships with other traders at other financial institutions. Irons forces him to sell everything, because if they didn’t, the firm would not survive.

So he sold it all, lighting the fuse on the financial stick of dynamite that blew up the economy. Later that same day Tuld says to Sam, “it’s all hands on deck now Sam, there is going to be a lot of money to be made coming out of this mess.”

Different mess today, but it is definitely all hands on deck.

It took a while for the enormity of this mess to sink into me, to really sink in and invade every cell in my body. I was in NYC with my daughter Maya last Thursday and as one piece of news after another kept rolling in, the mounting tension began to grip me to the point of feeling panic. By the end of the day I felt like that math wiz in Margin Call sitting in front of his computer in the dark when he realized what was going on as his eyes widened with horror at the new reality.

As a father, my most immediate concern was getting my daughter out of NYC. The New Yorkers were doing a great job of emotional labor – pretending all was ok despite the stench of fear and tension in the air. It seemed like business as usual. We all pretended.

I got my daughter home last Sunday and this whole thing has turned out far worse than I had imagined. We cancelled several upcoming trips and have gone all in on the need to hunker down in house arrest to avoid further spread of this disease.

So it is all hands on deck, for all of us, to do our part to get this thing over with as soon as possible. That will only happen with fierce commitment and discipline.

These are tough and anxiety provoking days, to put it mildly, which means that it is also all hands on deck for ourselves too. It is easy to exercise or meditate or eat healthy or be grateful when life is good, but when each day is filled with uncertainty and fear, it can feel almost impossible to engage in the the habits that keep us resilient – like the habits of The Resilience Bank Account.

But it is exactly now that the habits of the Resilience Bank Account are critical. Each morning, I check the news to see if there are any big new events overnight. No matter what, that one minute of glancing at the NYT creates a swell of anxiety that works hard to thwart my morning routine of meditation and then writing in my gratitude journal.

I ended up actually forgetting to meditate and write in my journal for two days, that is how distracted and fearful I was, and I could tell the difference in how I felt. The risk is that by avoiding the small things that help keep us above the line and our best selves, we risk the start of a slow downward spiral.

One small example. My son Max went on a low carb diet several months ago and has lost over 50 pounds, transforming how he feels and sleeps. Yesterday he called to tell me that he ate half a hogie at work and that night at home he ate a cheeseburger with the bun. Seems like no big deal given everything else going on, right?

He works in the grocery business which has been overwhelmed and he is deeply worried about his 4 kids and wife. The stress led to the breakdown of his normal discipline, potentially triggering a downward spiral of eating that could set him back, drip by drip.

It is the perfect example of the kinds of moments we all face every day, but even more so now. I can just have the hogie and burger today. Or, I can skip meditating today. Or I have to stay home and can’t go to the gym so I will take a break. Or I feel so anxious how can I possibly write in my journal. Or I just don’t feel like calling a close friend because I don’t feel like talking.

Anxiety and uncertainty can corrode our intentions, our discipline, and our commitment.

During this mess I decided to set my intention to do two things, every day, no matter what:

First, to accept, totally and in my bones, the reality of this mess. It is painful, for all of us. But pain x resistance = suffering. Pain is not optional, but suffering is. I highly recommend the book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach if you want to learn more about this concept.

Second, to practicing the habits of the Resilience Bank Account, no matter what. Saying no so I can say yes to what matters most now, sleeping 7-8 hours (even though I am having disturbing dreams), eating well, exercising at home with long walks outside and on my bike, writing in my gratitude journal, meditating every morning, being compassionate with myself when I struggle, and connecting with my closest friends by phone or zoom frequently.

It is all hands on deck, for yourself, so you can be on deck for others in your life.

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2 Comments

  1. JOSI WERT on March 20, 2020 at 11:02 pm

    Thank you Michael. And, I love Tara Brach! Good rec!

  2. Robert Dorman on March 21, 2020 at 11:12 am

    Wise words doctor. Appreciate the encouragement.

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