Denny Smith
Leadership and Development Trainer

Author Eric Butterworth says, “There is a reason why you get upset, it is because you are upset able.” You may be thinking, “Oh, no! You’re not laying that on me. You heard what that other person said; who wouldn’t get upset?” or “My kids do some of the most stupid things; of course I get upset.” Butterworth isn’t going to let you off the hook. He insists again that you get upset because you are upset able.

Staying calm under fire is a learned skill that is very achievable with no limit to the amount of growth you can experience. I am at the age where I don’t buy green bananas and I know for certain learning to control your responses to challenging situations is doable and attainable at any age.

I grew up during the authoritarian era and my idols in coaching were the Bobby Knights and Vince Lombardis of the world. They won championships so I thought that must be the way to go. Consequently, I didn’t always handle problems in the most cordial manner. Later in life I discovered that there is another way and began to work at being more patient and less defensive and learned to deal with problems and people much more effectively.

So, I have a suggestion for you based on over middle age/under middle age. (You decide what that is.) If you are under middle age, don’t wait until you’re sixty to learn this stuff — do it now. If you are over middle age, it is never too late to learn. I have experienced more growth in the past three years than at any time in my life and let me tell you, it is exhilarating.


It starts with awareness. “Awareness Precedes Change.” Before you can change anything in your life you have to develop an awareness of what it is you want to alter. Then, become aware of your awareness. And I did say become aware of your awareness. By exercising what many call “mindfulness,” you keep your antenna up and constantly monitor what you are thinking and doing. When your internal signals tell you that you are getting upset, you can change the feeling, or at least be aware of it and make an effort to control how you react. Even when you remain in a state of irritation, if you are aware, you can discipline yourself to respond in a calm manner.

Let me illustrate. My wife Pat and I were putting up the outdoor Christmas decorations, which is not at the top of my “favorite things to do” list. I was in my typical not so happy mood for the occasion, which in the past led me to take my crankiness out on Pat. Because I was aware of my mood, I could be diligent and make sure that I didn’t make her the brunt of my sour disposition. I didn’t have to take my frustration out on her when the ladder wasn’t in perfect position or when we had to restring the lights. That negative reaction was pretty routine in the past, but by recognizing (being aware of) my emotional state, I was able to control the way I reacted. By being aware of my awareness, even though I was unable to control the way I felt, I was able to control the way I behaved. So let’s interject a little patience affirmation here. When you feel yourself getting upset, take a deep breath and remind yourself:

I can’t help the way I feel right now, but I can control the way I think and act.

Here’s another example to illustrate the premise that the reason we get upset is because we are upset able. My oldest son was a self-taught computer expert at a young age. In fact, it was back in the days of the old floppy discs if you remember those. When something would go wrong, he would calmly ask, “Hm. I wonder why it did that?” Contrast that to his father who many times talks to his computer in biblical terms, not used in a biblical sense, if you know what I mean. Why did I get all bent out of shape when things ran amuck while he remained calm in that same situation? Plain and simple, because I was upset able and he wasn’t.

Make it your quest to be the leader who always seems to be under control. Allow yourself to be human and blow it once in a while, but always come back to the realization that the reason you got upset is because you are upset able. It is amazing how that assumption of personal responsibility leads to rapid and rewarding mastery that can be applied in all walks of life and in all relationships, both on and off the job. 

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