I am not too stupid, I am just grieving

Grief is limiting your power. As a high performer, it will be very frustrating to lose your ability to walk the extra mile. Get some ideas how to get through the grieving season – quickest.

“He doesn’t do what I tell him”, the leader complains. “It’s not a hard task… and still the result is poor.” Frustration is all over the place and the deadline is moving closer. A conversation about the situation of the employee starts – and all of a sudden a new story unravels. The team member went through a major loss lately. Emotional chaos and inner turmoil are limiting the ability to perform at best. While the leader is talking about all of those information, a new perspective on the situation evolves. The work is not yet done, but as the frustration leaves, new solution scenarios come up.

If you have gone through a major loss in life, you probably know how it feels not to be at the peak of performance. Details get lost. Deadlines seem insignificant. Colourful job tasks fade in grey.

It is a time when the focus of life shifts. And while some work is very helpful to keep a routine in life, one should not strive for high performance in order to kill the pain inside. Grief is real. Grief is painful.

Did you know that your brain cannot distinguish between the pain of a broken leg and the pain of emotional loss? Pain is processed the same. And you would not work with a broken leg one day after the surgery. Equally, you need to give yourself a bit of grace and rest when walking through grief.

For business people and high performer, this topic is important twofold:

  1. If you are a leader and your team member walks through grief, you need to know how to react.
  2. If you are a high performer walking through grief at any stage of your career, you need to know how to handle that situation.

Here are some thoughts

Tell people that you are grieving

You don’t have to say more or give details. But let your boss, colleagues and team members know, if you are walking through a tough time. “If I may seem absent at moments, it is not because I am not interested, but I am having a hard time at the moment.”

As a leader, you don’t need to help or say anything. A simple ‘I hear you’ is enough.

Go to bed early

If days are awful, make them at least short. In addition, you will need more sleep anyways as grief is taking a lot of energy. Especially if you are continue working … this is not the time for long office hours. Take your rest and you will get through this time quicker.

As a leader, be aware that rest is contributing to recovery. Take your team member out of heavy-fire-situations. Even if that person is requesting to work extra hard – coverage of pain through work is prolonging the healing and might end in burn out.

Have mercy – with yourself

Especially as a high performer, you love being productive and get stuff done. And exactly that skill is limited by grief. So you are not only grieving, but in addition, you feel like being useless.

The immediate reaction is to try to perform again – so that there is only the grief and not the feeling of uselessness. Unluckily, this approach is not successful. Your soul needs some time to let go and say goodbye. And it needs your mind and body to do that. You are one whole human being – and you cannot grief partially and work full-speed partially.

The ‘quickest’ route through grief is facing-the-giant wholeheartedly. Focus on the grief. Write, speak, weep. Whatever needs to be done. You will make it through. And once that time is over, you have your power back for high performing. Promised.

Sometimes life sucks

Have you ever witnessed a good friend walking through the aftermath of a disaster? Be it a devastating illness, loss of a loved one or financial ruin – grief is involved. Find out how you can be a good friend in hard times.

“He is dead!” – the horrified scream is reaching my ear. It is 4am in the morning. I am on my phone listening to a close friend. She just lost a close person and the pure horror in that reality is shaking us both to the core. Death. End of all hope. Pure pain.

Aside of weeping there is not much more. What can be said? What are the right words? Immediately I realize that there are no words at all that can picture the emotional rollercoaster that we are in. At the same time we are just connected via phone – leaving no chance to put an supporting arm around her shoulders and squeeze her gently. So what to say!?

“I hear you”, I whisper. “I am feeling with you.”

Have you ever been in such a situation?

Not you but a close friend needs to walk through hell. And you cannot change it. You are a bystander. Somehow emotionally affected – and then again not affected at all. To see a friend in pure devastation and not be able to do anything can be challenging, too.

Therefore, I would like to share a few thoughts on that. Thoughts I draw from the experience of having walked through hell myself and from several experiences when I walked with close friends through their valley of death.

Be there. Listen. And don’t leave.

When the disaster hits, noone is prepared. Whether it is a devastating illness, the death of a close person, adultery of a spouse or financial ruin – when it hits a person’s life, there (usually) was no preparation time. The horror, shock and emotions need to be put in words. So when your friend is in this, give him/her some time to talk. Or sit in silence. Or weep. Or scream. Whatever is needed.

If you are unsure whether you should stay or leave, ask your friend. Or tell him/her, that you will stay in the room next door – so your friend can choose what is needed. The same is true if you are distant – write that sms saying “I am thinking about you.” “Let me know when you want to talk.” “I am happy to listen.”

In general, what really helps is when you make yourself available (as much as possible; it is okay that you maintain your own life, too). People in pure pain don’t know themselves anymore. Everything that was so clear yesterday, is hard to even remember today. On some days getting up, getting dressed and eat even seem unmanageable. So, although you don’t want to force your friend into anything, be a bit proactive and prepare some dinner (although he/she might not eat much) or ask him/her out for a walk.

You don’t need to be an expert

The feeling of being overwhelmed with the situation as a friend very often leads people to the assumption that they are not “equipped” enough to stay in that situation. All these questions in your head “What should I say?” “What can I ask?” “What if I say something wrong?” very often leads to silence and disconnection from the friend in need.

Remember: your friend is in this for the first time, too. You don’t have to be an expert. And you don’t have to find a solution. At best, you are just there – as you would have been, when the catastrophe didn’t hit. And you can be honest, too. Just say “this really sucks“. And then laugh together. What a f***!

You don’t need to Find the answer

Whatever happened – you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes terrorizing your friend with questions. Same is true for “good advice”. Even if you had been in the same situation, chances are high that your friend lives in a different reality than you did. Your friend needs time to figure out for him/herself.

I really encourage you, to be there and listen. But be very cautious to give advice or to ask “why”-questions. Ask your friend how he/she is feeling. Ask him/her how the day was. What is easy? What is hard? Give him/her a stage to express his/her feelings. In that way you raise the chance for healing and a feeling to be understood.

Every day is different

In times of grief it is amazing how rapidly emotions can change. One day you are not able to see any hope, another day you might have first – crazy – dreams for the years to come.

Therefore, if you are supporting someone in grief, ask him/her how she is feeling. Don’t assume. If you haven’t talked for a day – check on the status quo. And don’t judge – regardless what the answer is. Be there as a friend and listen. For your friend that very listening will mean the world.

Take care of yourself, too

How are you feeling? When seeing a friend suffer it can be extremely overwhelming and stressful. Admit to yourself what the whole situation is doing with you. Start journaling – and put your emotions in words.

Although you are not the one in pain, somehow you are in pain, too. Be honest about it, tell friends yourself. And be gracious to yourself. Pain and sadness draw a lot of energy – therefore it would be quite normal if you need to sleep more and when you are not as powerful at work as you usually are.

I assume when you made it through the article until this point you are or have been walking this road. Let me tell you this: Thank you! Thank you, that you are the friend who is not running off despite the horror. Thank you for walking. Keep on.

Deal with your pain to become a more successful leader

Walk through the storms of the aftermath to become a restored person with more depth

Are you familiar with the ice cold grip that surrounds your heart the moment a hope or dream comes to an end? 

Do you know the darkness that clouds your vision leaving you clueless how to survive until the next day? 

It happens in an instant. You get that call. You read that note. One little information and your world falls apart. 

In the first days and weeks your brain goes on autopilot – somehow. You manage not to stink too much, to change your cloth regularly, sleep every once in a while and maybe nourish your body. You are in a tunnel, trying to survive, trying to get away from that painful information. Your reality is changed to a new setting that you neither invited nor created. 

Eventually you come to the moment when the first shock decreases and you realize you have to do something to get out of the pit that you have been thrown into. If you are at that point, most likely you want to change your life immediately! Now! Pronto!

And this is a very critical stage where you have to make a decision whether you just want to cover the pain with better feelings or if you want to heal and be fully restored.  

I encourage you to take the longer and more painful way to walk through your emotions, give yourself a chance to heal and become a restored person. Most likely you will find some sort of purpose of the painful experience at the end of your journey. At least this is what I have experienced and seen in lives of people facing the storm of their emotions. 

How do I walk through the storm? 

This is where the romance is put aside and the uncool stuff is settling in. A mentor told me, it will require 3 things: Talk, Tears and Time. This is when you cannot buy a quick fix or take the shortcut. This is when you need to decide walking. Walk with me. 


Wrap your emotions in words. Speak about your scattered hopes, your unfulfilled expectations, the unbearable sadness. Talk to people who you trust – maybe even a professional – and speak about your feelings. I emphasize: speak. about. your. feelings. 

This is not some lullaby-talk of a emotional-driven Johnny head-in-the-air. This is the real stuff. The hard way to get your scattered heart healed. Find words that describe what you feel. Anger? Hate? Sadness? Desperation? Take the effort and talk. Off limits. Everything can be said. 

Every time you talk about your situation, your brain is forced to concentrate and to put the spinning mind into proper sentences with subject verb object. This structure helps. It sets a stop to the chaos in your head.

Same is true for writing: pin your thoughts to paper. Every time you feel overwhelmed, get a pen and start writing. Maybe a letter to an imaginary friend, to a loved one or even to God. The addressee doesn’t matter – it is a vehicle to get you into structuring your thoughts. Shortly after starting to write you will experience a calmness, because your thoughts cannot go quicker than your pen on paper. 


Get ready to cry! If you think, you already cried more than enough for a lifetime during the first days of shock … get ready to experience another level. Same is true, if you didn’t cry at all during the shock phase. The road ahead runs by a river. 

It is quite interesting that to the brain any type of pain is processed the same. Hence, it doesn’t matter whether your leg or your heart is broken – for your brain the signals regarding severe pain will be the same. This is why we actually can feel loss and heartbreak. There is actual pain. 

In consequence, there are actual tears. If you break your leg while skiing, you probably cry due to intense pain. Same is true for emotional pain. Hence, crying is not a sign of weakness, but a scientific proven human reaction. It doesn’t have to be avoided. It actually is part of the healing process. 

Fun Fact: Psychic tears even contain a natural painkiller, called leucine enkephalin – perhaps, part of the reason why you might feel better after a good cry!

Dr. Nick Knight

Once you get used to crying, you will be more open and bold to talk about your life and feelings – even if that releases tears. And this is where the magic happens: while talking and crying over and over the same hurtful incident, the emotions are being processed. And all of a sudden you share a part of your painful past and you don’t have to cry anymore. The emotion is worked through, you made your way. The river dried. 


If you didn’t like the first two advises, get ready for even worse news: you don’t know how long you will have to talk and cry until you are through.

There might be some well-meaning individuals that like to share their view on timing unasked … but don’t listen to them. Instead of thinking whether they might be right or wrong, start walking the road ahead and don’t lose time to get towards your full restoration. 

Find yourself people and situations in which you can speak openly. Have your handkerchiefs ready [take the soft ones to be nice to your skin ;)] and off you go! In addition, get into journaling daily. Each feeling, each new view, every thought needs to be written. It is like medicine to your soul. Take it daily. 

Personally, unknown timing was the toughest part for me. I like things to work my way in my timing. But this road is different. There is no sign that signals the distance ahead. You just have to walk and trust the process to work. And it works. Promised. 

What are your thoughts right now? Have you ever walked that road and want to add/emphasis/contradict anything? Or are you just somewhere on that path and need some encouragement? Leave a note – or get in contact with me. 

Strong like Frida Kahlo

Find your way through loss, pain and heartbreak

FridaKahlo_BettFrida Kahlo was disabled by a severe bus accident when she was just 18 years old. The weeks and months followed she laid in bed in a stiff corset – unable to leave her bedroom herself. In order to keep her entertained, her mum put a mirror right above her face on the ceiling of her wooden bed. This was the moment Frida started to study her face intensively.

While in bed she already started drawing – on paper, even on her plaster. Later, she was able to move, visited the garden of her beautiful home “Villa Azul” daily and started to paint in her atelier. The images from the garden – the leaves, animals, atmosphere – found their way in Fridas pictures. Her likeness aswell. Fridas self drawn portraits are world known today.

Frida always wanted to have children. Sadly, she never reached the final term. Her sadness and pain found its way into her art – her way to work through her dark days.

Frida even influenced the design world despite her disability – or just say: due to her inclusion of her disability. Since she had to wear a corset daily and loved the traditional mexican culture, she decided to wear the traditional wide mexican dresses leaving her undergarment unnoticed to people around her.

Frida Kahlo rarely left her home “Villa Azul” in Coyoàcan, Mexico City, she was disabled from a young age, endured a lot of surgery and pain, managed through heartbreak, loss and unfulfilled dreams – and still influenced the world.

Let’s have a mindset like Frida.

#boots #inspiration #toughtimes #loss #pain #creativity

Who wants to get more inspiration: the replica of Frida Kahlos portraits can be seen until 6th January 2019 in Baden Baden:  http://www.kunstmuseum-gehrke-remund.org/

All pictures of this article were taken on 11th November 2018 in the Frida Kahlo Museum / Villa Azul in Mexico City with paid permission.  http://www.museofridakahlo.org.mx/en/the-blue-house/