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This Is the Operating Manual I Use When Hard Times Creep up on Me

by | Apr 10, 2023 | Life Hacks

The fashion online is to pretend you never face hard times.

This upsets me. No matter how successful you are, hard times will always find you, and temporarily throw your life into a tumbler dryer.

What counts isn’t that you avoid hard times but that you’re prepared for them. Here’s my operating manual. It’s got me through financial ruin, breakups, mental health issues, and being publicly fired.

A drunken sailor can teach you a lot about an emergency

On April 14, 1912 the Titanic hit an iceberg.

You’ve heard the stories of panic and about all the lost lives. What you probably haven’t heard of is the strange story of Charles Joughin.

When the ship was on its way down he didn’t panic at all. As the head baker, he got loaves of bread ready for the lifeboats.

When it came time to get into his lifeboat he, instead, decided to help others into theirs in a pretty chill manner. He let women and children take his place on the lifeboats several times.

As the ocean began to fill the hull of the steel beast, it became clear to Charles he’d probably go down with the ship and die.

The only logical decision was to get blind drunk and relax.

So he did. Inside his cabin was a boatload of whiskey which he grabbed. He headed back to the main deck and tossed chairs into the freezing water so people could use them to stay afloat.

The ship creaked and fought its way further into the sea.

Charles jumped off the deck into the water knowing he’d probably freeze to death. Others jumped in too but most died within minutes.

Here’s where it gets weird …

Because Charles drank so much alcohol before getting into the water, his insides were warm and he was able to fight the cold better than normal.

So he didn’t die.

As the sun came up Charles found a lifeboat in the water he could board. Shortly after, the rescue boats arrived and Charles was saved.

You could hardly tell he’d done much more than bake a cake.

  • No fear
  • No scratches
  • No tears of joy
  • No hyperthermia

Charles later joined the navy and lived until 78. I guess the lesson here is get drunk on whiskey when hard tragedy strikes.

Wait, no, that’s not it.

The lesson is your attitude determines how you navigate hard times. If you can find a way to stay calm, you’ll probably find a way through. But if you panic like a schoolgirl in a haunted house, you drown.

Go ghost on social media

When you’re fighting your way through hell, often, social media can only make it worse.

When I got fired from my job what I didn’t need was to go on LinkedIn and read all the smart ass comments about my downfall. So, instead, I took a break from social media.

I went and saw family. I reconnected to what the hell I was trying to do with my life.

The insight came that I wanted to be a people leader, but I didn’t care so much for online marketing and helping to ghostwrite content for people. So I got a new job in tech and went down a different path.

Many people are drowning in information but starving for aha moments and breakthroughs. The best wisdom I find during hard times comes from old books that have stood the test of time.

They help remind me of stories similar to my own to help me wake the hell up from my nightmare.

Don’t let doomscrolling make hard times harder than they need to be.

Whatever America’s Donald Duck did this time is none of your business. Focus on you and the recovery process.

“Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about”

(Brad Meltzer)

A few weeks ago I had a down week.

I felt like crap. I got all in my head and started to think only I had to deal with the unique problems I’d been given.

Then I went to the gym and bumped into one of my closest friends. He’s always got a smile and has a bulletproof mindset. For the first time ever he tells me he’s a little depressed.

It helped me so much because the temptation is to think your problems are unique. When that happens you’re less likely to find the answers.

Once I got reminded that all human problems fit into a few small categories, the breakthrough of “people have solved this before” smacked me in the face on a walk through the local park.

Life is hard for all of us.

See the world better than it is

When hard times strike it’s easy to get tricked by doomerism.

On the week of my recent hard times the hot topic was AI. If you research it enough, the idea AI could end humanity will no doubt surface.

This is where optimism helps a lot. What’s the bright side of the story? AI could murder us in our sleep with a digital knife using google maps precision … but it could also transform humanity.

The internet could have ended humans too but it didn’t.

When you remember that big societal changes are normal and they always seem scary at the start, doomerism doesn’t win the war in your head when faced with dark times.

Statistically, humans will probably survive. So smile and lean into your hard times.

Chillax with Max to decompress

The worst thing I do when hard times strike is try to ignore them.

I get tempted to overwork and block out the big issues creating my internal environment. It rarely works.

Instead, a better solution is to pause or even stop. Go and relax and give your mind the space to work through the problem.

The human brain is remarkable at solving problems for us when we give it the energy and bandwidth to do so on our behalf.

Any tax on your mental health is too expensive

When hard times strike you need strong mental health to make it through.

The worst taxes on mental health are poisonous friends/partners, bad bosses, and a toxic workplace culture that feels impossible to escape.

These taxes over time crash your energy levels and mindset to the point where there’s nothing left in the tank to fight the hard times.

Anything work-related is the easiest to solve. If a job has a high tax on your mental health just quit it and get a new one. There’s no shortage of jobs.

Always prioritize mental health. It’s not selfish. No, it’s survival.

Lean into this woo-woo hipster word


During hard times it’s easy to focus on what you don’t have and all the stuff that’s blowing up like random landmines on the life path you walk on.

Gratitude is a reset button.

  • It reminds you of everything going right.
  • It shows you how far you’ve come.
  • It makes you feel differently, and changing your state is a powerful technique.

Write down three things you’re grateful for. It’s a massive life hack for hard times.

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