The Circle of Zorro

Helpless. That’s how you feel when you lose your job. Things have been taken out of your control and you are powerless to affect them. That’s certainly how I felt on the three occasions it happened to me.

When you leave the Mothership, you are likely to feel the same. Even if you chose to take the package, it’s likely that it was not at the time of your choosing. You may well have felt you still had much to offer and, given the choice, you would have carried on. You may have decided to walk through the exit door but you’d been edged over towards it first.

Your success in creating a new life and career, however, depends on you re-establishing an internal locus of control, taking command over your behaviour in the belief that this will positively effect your outcome. That’s easy to say but much harder to do in the turmoil of emotions and hurt and anger you are experiencing.

Your brain is in conflict, between your sophisticated, thinking mind and your neanderthal, emotional mind – what Shawn Achor calls the ‘Thinker’ and the ‘Jerk’, in his book “The Happiness Advantage”. The ‘Jerk’ responds to danger and triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response. In other words, it hits the panic button. The ‘Thinker’ responds to danger by thinking first and then reacting. It has the reasoning and coping capabilities to work out the best response.

The problem is, the ‘Jerk’ has a hotline to the nervous system and when it hits the panic button, it overwhelms the ‘Thinker’’s ability to reason. This is known as an emotional hijack and this is what you are experiencing right now. You are a smart cookie but the ‘Jerk’ isn’t interested in that. It stops you from thinking straight and makes you react – with anger, distress and, eventually, helplessness.

So how do you get back in command of yourself? By managing what is under your control.

We all know Zorro, the swashbuckling master swordsman of Dumas’ stories, as a resolute, disciplined and fearless hero but Achor explains that this was not always the case. In the early stories Zorro is young and impetuous and fails in his quest to right  the injustices of the world. The more he fails, the more he feels out of control and powerless (is this sounding familiar?). When the ageing sword master Don Diago finds him, he is broken and wallowing in drink and despair. Seeing his potential, the old man takes Zorro under his wing and promises that mastery will come with “dedication and time”.

Back in the cave that is his lair, Don Diago draws a small circle around Zorro and he is forced to fight only within the circle for hour after hour, day after day. “This circle will be your world. Your whole life. Until I tell you otherwise, there is nothing outside of it”, he tells his protege.

Once Zorro masters control of this small circle, he is allowed to attempt greater and greater feats, which he achieves. None of these subsequent feats would have been possible if he had not achieved mastery of that first small circle and, in so doing, gain control of his emotions and a feeling of accomplishment. It is only by establishing that sense of control over his own fate that he can start to become Zorro, the legend.

You need to draw your own circle of Zorro and learn to master whatever is within it. Remember, it is not about becoming a hero, it is not about the end point. It is about establishing a small area that you can gain mastery over before you take on more challenging tasks, so that you can regain control of your emotions, practice your skills, restore your faith in your abilities and once again believe you have control over your own fate.

There are many things you could include but remember to keep it small. Setting out and keeping to a schedule for your day, taking regular exercise, eating well and drinking moderately, taking care of your mental wellbeing through meditation or walks in nature, being productive in some way like journaling or blogging or other creative projects, meeting regularly with friends and colleagues. Whatever you decide to include, practice taking action intentionally and taking control of your situation.

Once you have exercised control and have mastery over this constrained area then you will be ready to push back the boundaries and expand your circle. Then you can start to be like Zorro and be the hero of your own story.

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