Pirate skills 101:

Systematic Lemonade Production: What to do when life gives you lemons again and again and again.

Apr 30, 2020 5:03:00 PM / by Oliver Millington

Those days.

We all have them.

No, really, even that guy over there who appears to have his s**t together. His was probably last Tuesday, but he maybe didn’t share it on facebook.

This is not an appeal against the world that will make you feel bad for having those days, this is a citrus flavoured cheat sheet for helping those days not become those weeks.

<There's a handy systematic lemonade making cheat sheet diagram at the end of the article so be sure to check that out>


1. Look out for the flags, and believe them when they are there.

 

For me, if I get halfway through making a cup of tea and find myself staring into space, I know there’s more than a teabag brewing.

Like all frustrating things, the first step is denial. Depending on how convincing you are, denial can take a while. The thing is, admitting you’re having a bad day can feel like you’re giving up, yeah? You don’t want to have a bad day, so you also don’t admit that you’re having one, or even worse, about to have one.

But here’s the thing - if you admit you’re having a bad day, and you do something about it - only to find you weren’t having a bad day after all - then it’s no big deal. You won’t make yourself have a bad day by doing something about it.

null

 

This means we’re free. It means we don’t have to believe we’re having a bad day to benefit from fixing the bad day. Make sense?

So do us a favour, skip denial and move on to step 2.

 

2. Making Lemonade.

 

Acknowledge that whether you’re having a bad day or not, you want to get something done to shift the balance of power away from your lemon slinging opposition.

And the first step to making lemonade is identifying that your lemon is, in fact, a lemon.

null

 

And by that, I really mean, get to know your lemon. What is it about it that’s so, well, lemony. Are you reacting on the assumption that this is a lemon? Is this just laundry you really don’t want to do? (OK, I know sometimes that can be a lemon).

So, if your lemon looks like this:

‘My flatmate is moving out, so I need to get my head around whether I can find a new flatmate or a new place to live and I have 2 months to do it, and while I’m at it do I even want to stay here or should I be doing something more instagram worthy with my life?’

Then you have to move on to step 3.

Step 3. Get to know your lemons segments.

Have you ever seen a shark trying to eat a beach ball bigger than its head? Me neither, but I imagine it’ll look like you trying to tackle a full size lemon without breaking it down into its component parts.

So instead of:

‘Hey, I’m having a crap day, my flatmate is moving out, so I need to get my head around whether I can find a new flatmate or a new place to live and I have 2 months to do it, and while I’m at it do I even want to stay here or should I be doing something more instagram worthy with my life?’

 

Try imagining that lemon in segments:

Hey, I’m having a crap day, my flatmate is moving out, so I need to get my head around whether I can find a new flatmate or a new place to live and I have 2 months to do it, and while I’m at it do I even want to stay here or should I be doing something more instagram worthy with my life?

(Here, black writing is either there to make the sentence make sense, or part of the lemon's rind that adds a load of unhelpful stress and pressure. You can’t use the rind to make lemonade, get to the juicy bit.)

Right now, you need any of the following:

 

To establish whether you can find a new flatmate
To establish whether you can find somewhere new to live
To establish whether you want to stay here or move on

So you’ve got a three segment lemon. (maybe they’re lucky like a four leafed clover?)

Step 4: There’s more than one way to make lemonade.


Simple segments:

Sometimes, your segments are all kind of separate, without connections, and you just have to crack on. In which case, if you feel up to it and can tackle them on your own then go for it.

The approach I take depends on how I’m feeling, but I’ll either pick the one that looks hardest, so that the ‘list’ gets progressively easier, or I’ll pick the one that looks easiest, to give me a feeling of accomplishment to power me through the rest. (this is how most financial advisors suggest you tackle getting out of debt - start with the biggest OR smallest).

 

Complex segments:

Sometimes, your lemon segments break down a little differently, and, if you have the effort, it’s worth working out which order they are best juiced in as they’re all kind of stuck together still.

In the flatmate example above, the third lemon segment (definitely the most emotionally challenging) if completed may result in making the first two segments irrelevant. If you’re moving away, you don’t need to find a flatmate or somewhere to live (in this town at any rate). The obvious word of caution is you shouldn’t leave an area for a fresh start just so you don’t have to go through the trauma of finding a new flatmate.

You can also get lemons lined up in such a way, that eliminating one of them makes dealing with the others easier. This most often presents itself when you don’t know everything you need to to deal with a task. Here’s an example:

I want to build an online platform like Airb’n’b for mountain guides to advertise courses and their clients to make bookings (it’s only an example - I promise - all the guides reading this are safe, at least this week).

This presents itself as one enormous lemon. I’m not a software developer, I don’t even know what language to speak to a software developer in, but I know that this project only has a chance of being viable if I build it myself until I can bring in help. So my lemon breaks down like this.

Oh F**k, here we go again. I don’t even know how programming even starts to happen, let alone how to do it, is it even programming I need? What about the underlying business case? Is there even any point? I can’t exactly rock up to a mountain guide and say “hey, I don’t know how to build software, but will you advertise your company on my software” can I?


<this lemon is actually several pages long, but for simplicities sake I’m stopping there>

Which turns into this when the imaginary segmentation process has happened:

 

Oh F**k, here we go again. I don’t even know how programming even starts to happen, let alone how to do it, is it even programming I need? What about the underlying business case? Is there even any point? I can’t exactly rock up to a mountain guide and say “hey, I don’t know how to build software, but will you advertise your company on my software” can I?


And all of a sudden I have a clear plan.

If I solve problem 1, that I don’t know how to programme, then problem 2 vanishes, or I’m rubbish at it and there’s no point carrying on.

If I solve problem 3, then there’s a 50:50 chance that I don’t need to do the others, and if I do, then I’ve got a better idea as to what I’m trying to achieve with 1 - so I should start there.
That only leaves me to find a friendly mountain guide and get on a zoom call… Arguably simpler than learning to programme, and it’s not even me dithering about it that has to make the decision for where to start - I just have to start there.

1-2-3 lemonade.

Step 5: What if your segments are still too big?

Here, again, you have two choices. Get help OR segment your segments into the smallest possible thing. Lets start with the latter.

Segment your segments:

In example 1, a bit of detail about your tenancy agreement might go a long way - to double check things like notice period and what you can and can’t do. So your smallest segment, when taken in its smallest segment, might be:

Take the time to find your tenancy agreement, and stick it on the table ready to look at later and go for a walk to collect your thoughts a little.


If it turns out, actually, you’re doing just fine after your walk, then crack on with reading that tenancy agreement. If not, why not ask for help, or take some time out?

OK, no good? Segment already super small?

Effectively ask for help:

 

Here’s the challenge. The old addage says, a problem shared is a problem halved. Well, that’s crap.

A problem halved is a problem halved. A problem shared is a problem you feel better about that’s just waiting to pounce.


So in order to actually make lemonade, you need to get to the bottom of how to cut your lemon in half. That means asking for help in the right way.

My tip is imagine yourself walking into a room, and asking a question of a friend. If the friend can use the answer ‘so what do you want me to do about it?’ and it makes sense, then you’ve not asked for help in an effective way. The problem here is the friend will want to help - and they will inevitably present ‘a solution’. Being told to ‘just get a knife and cut the lemon in half’ doesn’t help, when you’re struggling to motivate yourself to find a knife.


So maybe - “hey, do you know anyone looking to share a flat?” will get you somewhere.

IMG_20200429_124614 (1)

 

 

Step 6: The stubborn lemon.

 

All lemons are not created equal. Sometimes you go to segment them up, and the skin is so tough you just bounce off. Or you manage to segment it and the segments themselves start exploding into multiple surprise lemons - the lemon hydra effect. Or maybe the smallest segment is so gnarly that even with help you just can’t juice it.

Don’t panic. OK, at this stage, you’ve already panicked, so don’t panic again.

We have a plan.

This is where we commence operation learn about your lemon.

 

A lemon like this isn’t going to let up.

 

So it’s time to dig deep and learn about your lemon.

 

How do other people tackle lemons like this? Can you google it? Can you listen to a podcast with your eyes shut under the duvet? Can you dig into the tens of thousands of audiobooks on multiple subjects available online to help? Can you find a relevant blog post or expert and learn something from them?

Or to start, can you maybe just take a deep breath and write down what you don’t know about your lemon and need to, then go for a walk? If so, then you eventually start making progress. Learning about your lemons, normally helps you break them down a little, and your back further up the process. If one lemon, becomes one hundred, and you can break down one into segments, and one of those segments into segments, and get help with that one smallest segment. Well, then you’ve made lemonade.

Step 7:

This is a seriously bad lemon.

You can’t always make lemonade, and that’s OK. If you’ve dug deep and gone through the process, and you can truly do nothing, then you know there’s nothing you can do.

That doesn’t mean it’s over, sometimes you have to weather some grim reality until a storm passes. Sometimes massive urgent undefeatable lemons go mouldy over time. Sometimes you can sneak round a lemon and buy yourself some time. Sometimes, you can borrow lemonade from a friend.

And if after that, you’re still standing. Lemon meringue pie is also nice.

Blank Diagram

 

 

 

Oliver Millington

Written by Oliver Millington