What happened to you?

I was panicking. I couldn’t find my wallet, and I knew I put it right there. I always put it in the same place, and it wasn’t there. I could feel panic setting in, and a series of self-destructive questions start rushing through my mind: What did you do? Why didn’t you prepare more? Why didn’t you plan?

As the other person in the room was watching me panic, I heard them ask: What’s wrong with you? It’s right there.

I found the wallet, but I lost at least a few days off my life panicking like that. I’m sure the follow-up shame doesn’t do anything to help. All I could think was, “What is wrong with me? What am I doing wrong?”

“What’s wrong with you” gets thrown around a little too often in these moments, as if people in a panic can immediately point to a deep mental connection that explains everything. Our wiring is so much more complex and in our shakiness, it’s hard to see clearly.

Instead, I think we should be asking, “what happened to you?”

I didn’t come up with that. Oprah wrote a new book, and that’s the whole point: asking what happened to you, not what’s wrong with you. She wrote it with a child psychologist to understand human behavior from the lens of childhood trauma.

The whole idea is that childhood trauma shapes how you see everyday conflict. Now I won’t get into all my therapy stuff, but I will say I have checked enough boxes to know that my behavior can sometimes feel like a wall of light switches. The big stuff barely registers, but there are a million tiny switches that flip when minor things happen – like misplacing a wallet.

It’s an anxiety that makes it more than a little challenging to be a CEO managing a lot of little stuff. Big stuff doesn’t come along very often when you’re creating a business, just lots of little things you don’t want to deal with and problems that, if timed well, feel like they ruin an entire day. The beat yourself up cycle doesn’t work well here, either. It adds up to a lot of “screw all this” and “I can’t do this.”

Blame it on burnout or whatever else, but it doesn’t just burn you. It will reduce you to ashes. In that realization, I’ve been doing a lot of work to let little stuff be little. Ultimately, the thing that has saved my sanity is the realization that I have the power to say, “not right now.”

Most people don’t tout procrastination as a tool for success but hear me out.

Putting little things off – like responding to a passive-aggressive email or giving feedback on a frustrating mistake – has helped save my sanity. Not everything requires an immediate response.

Secret: some things need no response at all.

So the next time that little thing – a comment, a misplaced something, whatever triggers you – happens, work on believing it doesn’t have to be solved right this moment. If you need to smile when you say it, try “not today Satan.” Sometimes you can just come back to it later.

Quitting won’t kill you, but beating yourself up surely will.


My blog this week is for those of you pondering quitting your jobs and wondering, “does preferred qualification mean I have to have that qualification or not?” I’ve also got some bonus tips for recruiters who want to delete that preferred bias and create job posts that make qualified candidates apply.


PS – I am moving this letter to my blog in the coming weeks and will no longer be sending it here. I apologize now if you’ve been getting this letter in 2 places. If not, be sure to subscribe here to keep getting this every week! 


Kat Kibben View All →

Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

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