I’ve found myself using this phrase — “Are you looking through a microscope or a telescope?” often. The way I explain this is that sometimes, particularly when we are embroiled in an issue, it becomes all we can see.Whereas, typically, if we can put a bit of distance between ourselves and the issue, we are able to put it into context.

I’ll use myself as an example. Earlier in my career, I was laid off. At that time, we had just sold our home so that we could move closer to my job, we had a six month old baby, and my husband had just resigned his role so that he could raise our son. For a few weeks, all I could see was that I had been laid off, that I had let my family down. I had wrapped my worth, my identity, into my title and my financial contribution to my family. Those closest to me helped to remember that I was so much more than that. They helped me put into perspective what was mine to own about the lay-off, what the experience could teach me about myself, what was important to me, and how I might incorporate those learnings as I moved forward.

I’m sure we can all think of times when it felt like our whole world was wrapped up into the issue we were facing. Think back to when you were a kid and you didn’t get invited to the party, or the person you were interested in wasn’t interested in you, or the teacher you felt had it out for you. At that moment, you were so focused in on the issue, it was all you could see. But, with some distance and perspective, you managed to see the dilemma for what it was — a constellation (or a star) in your sky, to use the telescope analogy.

For some of my clients, these issues come in the form of a bad performance review, or a new boss that they can’t seem to get a read on, or an illness. In our professional and personal lives, we will face challenges, twists and turns, and detours that we might not expect nor welcome. When these issues arise, looking through the microscope allows us to clearly identify those learnings that we want to use as building blocks moving forward. The challenge though is not to stare into the microscope for too long, not to get lost in the issue; rather glean the lesson and then put it into the appropriate context.