We’re not strangers to experiencing technical difficulties.
- The hard restart of a mobile device or laptop (or the dreaded blue screen of death with 3 of 976 updates in progress 2 minutes before you’re supposed to lead a meeting)
- The oops awkard reply-all drama in an email or group text (followed by everyone else replying all to say that everyone should stop using reply all)
- Deciphering the illogical placement of the mute button (yes you’re still muted)
And in my case over the recent weeks…
- watching the microwave turn on yet not heat anything
- my first time at ALDI wondering what is up with their quarter-in-out-grocery-cart-lock-system
- my time traveling possessed printer
- my car’s preference to only ventilate on high
- and the nerve-wracking dumbfounding experience of a new microphone that works and yet somehow doesn’t.
But aside from the desire to throw a non-functional device across the room, aside from the desire to procrastinate because solving a problem feels overwhelming, aside from the embarrassment of failing technology… it turns out there are lessons buried within the stressful moments of technical difficulties.
- Prepare. But remember not everything is preventable. So be prepared… to adjust.
- Try out alternatives. You might like them better.
- Restarting can be healthy (for you and the device).
- Inconvenience can be a healthy way to develop empathy (for you. The devices are sentient… yet.)
1. Prepare… then prepare to adjust.
I remember Y2K. I had just finished my first semester of college, back at home for winter break, and was really excited to go to a New Year’s Eve party with my newfound friendships. But my parents said no. They were worried the world would experience technical difficulties: stoplights would stop working, I would be “stranded” in a neighboring Chicago suburb without power, without working cell phones, with dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria! I was very upset, to say the least. And of course, nothing catastrophic happened. 1999 became 2000 and life went on.
But that didn’t just happen (meaning the “non-happening, non-events” we all feared). They were non-events because multiple someones did the research and did their job. The collective “we” didn’t know then (and most of us don’t know now) how the technology we use and depend on really works. Good for us there were and are people who know. People who were experts, who researched, who became experts, who prepared, who planned, who tested (and who probably prayed a lot that it would work, too).
When you’re doing something for the first time or doing something familiar in a new way, preparation is key. But sometimes, despite your best research, scenario planning, and testing things might not go as planned (like a power outage during the biggest football game of the year).
Sparing you the technical details of my recent work related technical difficulty experience I’ll say this…
- The ones who go into problem-solving mode and try everything they can think of, no matter how odd it might be, until a workable solution is discovered.
- The ones who let it roll off their back and don’t cause others to panic.
- The ones who adjust the script on the fly to keep moving forward.
- The ones who keep everyone informed to reduce assumptions and convey competence and control.
I witnessed leadership from someone who didn’t give up trying. I witnessed leadership from someone who allowed it to fuel laughter instead of anger. I witnessed the importance of people being able to adjust.
2. Try out alternatives.
The microwave decided it didn’t want to be a microwave anymore. It only wanted to be an obnoxious sized light, with a useless rotating platter. It didn’t feel like heating anymore. I get it microwave. Some days we don’t feel like doing what we’re called to do.
Unfortunately, my microwave never rebounded. Never rediscovered its purpose. And we really procrastinated getting it replaced. Which meant we learned a few interesting things in the interim…
- Reheating pizza in the oven is WAY better.
- All coffee must be consumed in a Yeti to keep it as hot as long as possible.
- You can reheat a lot of things in a frying pan, which allows you to add new things to it, and then it tastes better!
- No more cleaning Tupperware!
Honestly, it was interesting to live without a convenience we had gotten used to and taken for granted. We learned other ways of accomplishing similar tasks. It made us wonder what else we have that we claim is a need, that isn’t really a need at all. The microwave was a luxury we’d become accustomed to. Its crisis of purpose caused me to look at other things and ask what I considered a need, that probably isn’t. And showed me the importance of exploring alternatives. Even if I go back to what is familiar or convenient, I now have new options (and if something malfunctions, the outcome can be less uncertain). I have options to try. And better reheated pizza.
3. Restarting can be healthy.
My printer is possessed. Here is how our conversation goes:
Jess: Please print this document in color, in draft mode.
Jess: What if I unplug you and plug you back in?
Jess: What if I restart you?
Jess: Pretty please? What if I send you the file again?
Jess: But you printed everyone else’s documents just fine, why not mine?
Jess: Ok, I guess I’ll restart my computer.
Printer: OK! Here are your beautiful pages! And I even printed them twice because you asked me twice!!!!
I have no idea what’s really going on. It’s super inefficient to restart my computer any time I want to print anything. But this awkward time of restart, allows me to do a few other things:
- make a new pot of coffee (yes I said pot not cup… don’t judge)
- talk to my coworkers about the project instead of sending the lengthy emails I’m known for
- read through my to-do list and prioritize what I’ll work on next
Of course, I need to solve the miscommunication between me and the printer, but sometimes a restart allows me to see what else needs my attention. A restart can allow us to focus our attention on something else we hadn’t prioritized as we should. A restart pulls our heads up from the device to observe the people around us (and question whether we really need to use all of that paper).
4. Inconvenience can develop empathy.
We all have our preferences. My car prefers to provide any requested ventilation on high only. You’d like air conditioning? Let me blow your hair around like the windows are down. You’d like heat? Here you go, just be prepared to turn me off before I burn your toes off. Will I get my car fixed? Of course, I will eventually. But like the microwave, a little procrastination can bring with it a few benefits in the form of renewed perspective:
- A heated car is a luxury.
- Any car is a luxury.
- My little car is a luxury.
- I have the ability to park it in a covered garage at work (luxury).
- I have the ability to park it in a garage at home (luxury).
- Home is a luxury.
To call the temperamental heater in my car a difficulty is an overstatement. I fully recognize it is an inconvenience. And one that reminds me of all I have to be thankful for. But it shouldn’t end in thankfulness. That should be the beginning.
Think of a time you felt immensely grateful to someone.
You wanted them to know how thankful and appreciative you were. You couldn’t keep it to yourself. This is why Thank You Cards exist. You have to share your gratitude somehow. I think this is part of why the “pay it forward” phenomenon can happen in a drive-thru lane. A truly thankful heart explodes with generosity.
Not because I’m encouraging you to. Not because someone told you to. Not because it’s mandated by any organization, or government, or person. Once it becomes mandated, helping others ceases to be genuine. Ceases to be authentic. Ceases to be love. It’s only when something is freely given that it can be called love. Generosity. Gratitude.
- Help because you are truly thankful to God for what he has done for you and you can’t keep that love to yourself. (Read John 4:7-20)
- Help because the thing you see, the person you see, the situation you see… pains your heart so much that you want that to be different. And the secret it that passion, might actually be part of your purpose.
I shook my fist at Heaven. I said, “God, why don’t You do something?!” He said, “I did.” “I created you.”excerpt from the song “Do Something” by Matthew West
We’re not strangers to experiencing technical difficulties and technical inconveniences. But who we are in the midst of the difficulty, in the inconvenience makes all the difference. Your response…
- can be the difference between reducing stress for others or creating it.
- can be the difference between discovering a new way of doing things or becoming dependent on a luxury.
- can be the difference between leading with generosity from a thankful heart or complaining and demanding.
This isn’t easy. I’m not always my best. I’ve failed at this. It’s hard.
- Resetting our habits.
- Changing the way we look at our circumstances.
But it’s one of the most important things we can do. One moment at a time. One day at a time.
Go forward with me.