Noteworthy Voices 2-MIN. READ

How to Pick Yourself Up When You Fall

By: Danielle Sullivan 05/30/2023
Find out six key steps for picking yourself up emotionally after a fall. 
Danielle Sullivan in an arena.

Life is hard. So many things going on in the world can feel overwhelming, frustrating, and frightening. However, the only thing you can control in life is your reaction to people and situations. And that’s part of what makes life really hard.

In her book Rising Strong, Dr. Brené Brown lays out a series of steps to rise back up after a fall. I’ve read this book twice, listened to it twice on audiobook, and even gone through the exercises academically, meaning I’ve thought about them. But I hadn't taken myself through the process until recently.

Where Growth Truly Happens

If you are living your best, brave life, that means you are in the arena of your life, not in the seats watching others. You will sometimes feel like you are a gladiator fighting for your life. Part of living a brave life is risking it all, being willing to fall on your face, and still getting back up and staying in that arena. As educators, our classrooms are the arena. We show up every day, put ourselves out there, and ask our students to do the same.

When you fall, face down, dirt in your face, your body hurts, your emotions hurt, and whatever caused that fall haunts you. Maybe it was a hard conversation with a family member, or maybe you did not support your students the best way you could at that moment. Maybe you lost your temper. It’s in that moment when you slowly decide to pick yourself up, one painful bit by bit, when true growth happens.

You see, some people are so afraid of that moment that they will live their whole lives from the seats in the arena, never taking risks or living life to their fullest. They think risking that fall isn’t worth it. But it is.

You cannot numb the dark emotions without numbing the light. If you stay in those stadium seats of life, you are not allowing yourself to experience love deeply, feel passionate about something, or experience joy, bliss, creativity, or connection. That’s what’s at stake by not being in the arena. Life itself, including all the moments that make teaching a joy—connection, belonging, making a difference. All of it.  

How to Pick Yourself Back Up

I fell recently. I mean hard—face down, dirt in my mouth, wondering if I would be able to pick myself back up. Here are the steps I took to get back on my feet. It’s a step-by-step framework called Six Steps to Oxygen, adopted from Brené’s work:

1. What are you feeling?

Allow yourself to feel it for 90 seconds. Or an entire weekend, in my case. For me, I struggle with getting angry. However, once I gave myself permission, I was able to let myself feel angry, stressed, anxious, sad, and disappointed. Allow yourself to feel whatever you need to feel. 

2. What are you saying to yourself? 

Our brains love stories. When something happens that causes you to fall, you are going to have emotional reactions—that’s normal. Perhaps you had a challenging miscommunication with a leader, or a parent call didn’t go the way you wanted. You are going to say things to yourself—that’s human. However, part of our protection is to create stories around what we are feeling to justify those emotions. I got clear on what I was saying to myself about what really happened.

3. What actually happened that hooked you emotionally?

This is where you start to move from raw emotions to leaning into curiosity and awareness. What was the actual event that caused me to react this way? What actually happened?

4. What story are you telling yourself?

Brené calls this an SFD (sh#tty first draft). It’s all the lies or wild things your brain is going to say, and this story may or may not be based on any facts. However, it’s important to get it out. I wrote my SFD in my journal. Take time to do this step.

5. What is true in this situation? What are the facts?

This is a critical step. It’s where our brains start to calm down so we can activate the logical part of the brain. What actually happened? Write it down. What else happened? Write it down. Facts only—no stories or emotions.

6. How can I rewrite this story, and how do I want to feel?

This part is where you remind yourself that you are in control of your thoughts, reactions, and feelings. You have the power to be the hero of your own story. For my story, I am worthy and good enough. I live bravely, and I may make mistakes and fall, and if my falling takes another person down with me, I will clean up my part in what happened, take ownership, and work to keep focusing on living bravely and learning. 

This process can take minutes, days, or even weeks. It’s a tool I’ve talked about. However, until recently I had never tried it, and it really helped. Hopefully it can help you too. The world needs more teachers like you—living bravely, putting yourself out there for your students. Thank you for what you do, and let’s continue to be brave together. 

To hear wellness tips from a teacher, listen to this Extraordinary Educators™ Podcast.