By Alice Trimmer
This expression is usually interpreted as an example of the British “stiff upper lip” that characterizes stoicism in the face of adversity. However, the expression “carry on” has another, perhaps now outdated, meaning. It used to mean complaining, for example, a mother would say to her whining child “What are you carrying on about?” I like to interpret this concept as follows: keep an outward calm even though you are carrying on inside. This has proven to be the single most effective coping tool I developed in over 30 years of managing publishing projects. It was even more valuable during my second career, which spanned nearly a decade, working in, and directing, a non-profit center for youth in the South Bronx. I found that if I could manage to keep calm while everything seems to be falling apart around me (and inside of me as well), this was the single most important thing I could do. As a manager, it is especially critical. When things go wrong—an important piece of work is not delivered on time, an assumption that was not checked has proven false, a critical message was not transmitted—one’s initial reaction is likely to be emotional and somewhat defensive. We may first think “What did I do wrong?” which can quickly modulate into “What did [Sarasponda, Eric, Sebastian, Ellie] do wrong?” Or “Why on earth did [Sarasponda, Eric, Sebastian, Ellie] not let me know about this earlier?” This is the time to take a deep breath and smile. There will be time for debriefing later, but if you get everyone in a whirl because you, the manager, are upset, it only saps energy and distracts the team from getting on with solving whatever problem or situation has arisen. This is easier said than done, but it is helpful to realize that often the consequences of such mishaps are not as severe as they are initially imagined, and furthermore, they are almost inevitable when an enterprise involving many moving parts is underway.