Between a Rock and a Hard Place

If you are familiar with ancient Greek mythology, then you may recall a particularly vivid scene in Homer’s Odyssey. After passing the Sirens’ island, Odysseus must navigate the straits between Scylla, a horrid six-headed monster, and Charybdis, a treacherous whirlpool. This is believed to be the source of the idiom “between the devil and the deep blue sea.” A more modern and well-known translation is “between a rock and a hard place” – a phrase we learn as kids that stays with us through adulthood. We understand this to mean that a person is struggling because they believe they are faced with a choice of two unsatisfactory options. The origins of these phrases lie deep in the human psyche, which makes them universal and transcends time. Facing (and overcoming) challenges in life is important, but honing our ability to take a step back and view things differently is crucial for success. Changing your perspective allows you to take a wider and clearer view of the world.

Clearly, neither a rock nor a hard place sound like favorable circumstances; therefore, we tend to have the perspective that being stuck there means we only have a choice between bad and worse. Feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place can leave you feeling frustrated, stressed and anxious as you await a solution. It often negatively impacts your work performance. Let’s face it, many of the most trying dilemmas are often work-related and may cause you to lash out at your loved ones.  However, everyone has the ability to shift their perspective and sometimes, it can be the difference between good and better.

It’s incredible how such a tiny change can magically transform our thoughts. Most people will feel like they are stuck and try to get out of a situation, but it would be much more beneficial to get through it. If you simply shift your perspective and think of yourself as moving laterally and growing, your reality is positively altered. Feeling overworked and burned out with no good options for changing jobs? Rather than pound your desk and internalize the frustration, start taking small actionable steps to get through this period. Treat it as a transition period, which implies progress and forward movement. Start making a list: What can you delegate? Start there and reprioritize. Is this an opportunity to prove yourself as worthy of a promotion? Work smarter, not harder… and then start updating your resume and LinkedIn profile.

When we are confronted by two difficult situations, sometimes we have to go backwards and sideways, or just take an entirely new path.

Those in business and leadership roles are faced with tough decisions every day, including some that challenge our values and threaten to upend our security. Imagine a situation where you’re left with two choices: the potential collapse of wealth you’ve generated or the scarring of your reputation and brand. Your business has an opportunity to work with a client who will bring you a lot of revenue, but the company works in a space that goes against your morals and values. What do you do? Odysseus stayed his course down the straits but sacrificed six sailors on his ship when they were killed by Scylla. Instead of saying “this is an impossible decision,” try writing down all of the positive outcomes that may come with your tentative decisions. Shift your perspective. I’ve known many entrepreneurs over the years who have resisted retirement or stepping down from day-to-day operations because they focus solely on what they’ll lose: money, power, influence, control. But after talking to them, they learn to shift their mindset and begin thinking about what they’ll gain instead. Giving up 16-hour workdays means more time for family, hobbies and going to church. It means going on that trip around the world you’ve been promising your spouse. It means you can get serious about writing the Great American Novel you’ve always dreamed of doing.

Ask yourself: Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Is the threat of bankruptcy real, or am I creating a doomsday scenario in my own head? Hopefully you are, but if you are truly stuck between a rock and hard place, then think about how hard you have worked to make your dreams a reality. You started with nothing and built a company from the ground up. If you are capable of that, there is no reason you can’t build it back up again. Look at the situation objectively. A well thought out decision cannot be made when you are too emotionally charged.

Changing your perspective ultimately changes your mind – your actions and behaviors will follow suit. No doubt, tough choices will arise and maybe you won’t always like your options. Maybe what matters isn’t necessarily the choices we make, but how those choices help us grow.


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