What do you consider an emergency?

  • Experiencing explosive decompression on your airplane?
  • Losing your phone?
  • Losing your passport?
  • Having a security breach within your company?
  • Being detained by the military in a foreign country?

At what level does it become an emergency?

Recently, I was on a flight that suffered explosive decompression. As I remained calm and assessed the situation, I realized the only action I could take was send quick text messages to certain people. I unwittingly set off a chain of different reactions in those three people:

  • The first person was unfazed--he knew he could do nothing to affect the outcome.
  • The second person was concerned, but also knew he couldn't do anything.
  • The third person worried, tracking my plane, and grew concerned when it disappeared from radar. 

Often, as entrepreneurs, everything we do has the urgency of an "emergency" attached. It goes something like this: If I don't make this deadline, I will lose my funding opportunity. If I lose my funding, the company will fail. If the company fails, my life is over. This is called "catastrophizing."

Living with this type of mindset can cause extended periods of stress, and heightened emotional states. These emotional states can lead to decisions made from fear, which reduce the likelihood of good judgment.

While I've personally experienced all of the above "emergencies," I've managed to handle all of them without feeling outwardly stressed. Here are my five steps to help you through anything life throws your way:

1. Stay calm.

While this seems too simple, it all starts here. You need to be completely in control of yourself and your emotions before doing anything else.

Once, after finding that I had been pick-pocketed of my passport in a foreign airport, I first took a few deep breaths to center myself. I thought of a time when I was fully calm--and told my mind to "play pretend" that I was in that place instead.

Once I was calm, I looked for a "police" symbol, walked to it, and used my phone to type out my problem into Google Translate. The policeman and I typed back and forth to each other, and the officer was able to use security cameras to find my passport within minutes.

2. Take stock.

Once you have a clear mind, you need to mentally analyze the situation. Define the problem clearly. What resources are available to you?  

We've all left cell phones in Ubers. After this happened to me, I ran through a mental checklist of what was available to me in that moment. Uber had a lost-and-found option in the receipt, which I could access via a computer--and I had my laptop with me. No reason to panic.

A more business-specific situation: We lose files all the time in business--whether emailing them to the wrong person, or deleting and emptying the trash. Knowing the possibilities to retrieve them ahead of time can keep you calm.

3. Take action.

Once you've determined what resources you have and what is possible for you to do, it's time for you to act.

Sometimes, it's proactive. While handling a security breach at Evernote, where I used to work, I made sure technical support was constantly keeping customers apprised of the situation, even when we had no new information to give.

Other times, it's reactive. If you accidentally email the wrong file to someone, Google has an "undo send" feature (if you've turned it on ahead of time). You can ask the other person to delete the email. You should probably let your IT team know.

Do something.

4. Reflect.

See if there's anything you missed. Did you let yourself get stressed? Was there an action you could've taken? Did you use all the resources at hand?

Once, when traveling abroad, my partner and I were separated from each other at a military checkpoint. Women were being taken away with no warning or explanation after they'd already taken all of our electronics.

After we were reunited, we made a plan to have each other's phone numbers memorized as well as the number for the US Embassy in case this type of thing happened again. When it happened to us again in another country, we were able to remain calm--we had a plan.

5. Keep things in perspective.

Everyone is different. The "end of the world" to you may not even be noticeable to someone else.

So, you didn't sign this client? Take a few breaths, remain calm, and understand that not everyone is your target. Ask them why they weren't interested in you--their feedback will get you closer to someone who will be a better fit for your product.

By following these five steps, you'll guide your way through any situation with aplomb.