5 Important Lessons on Being Grounded

On Monday, I discussed a postponed beach trip, but why I’m keeping my bags packed anyway.  (I’m hopeful that this weekend I’ll get there).  But, it put traveling and road trips on my mind.  I’ve had a few instances where a flight was grounded and a trip turned, unexpectedly, into an extended or overnight trip.  When making alternate arrangements and thinking about the time I was losing, I was irked and irritated by being grounded.

I’ve hated being grounded.  I’m impatient.  As a reconstructionist™, having dealt with the physical, spiritual, emotional and financial devastation that comes with life-threatening illness and life devastating events, I am always eager for an uncomfortable or bad situation to quickly change.  I’m always looking for positive change.

I’ve been grounded a number of times, by flight cancellations, and by my late mother disciplining a young mischievous daughter (me).  I’ve also been grounded by a job layoff, business opportunities that failed and relationships that fell apart.  When I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, I was grounded by the physically, spiritually, emotionally and financially debilitating effects of treatment.  Each situation triggered anger, irritation and impatience.  A forced delay in my plans has never been good.  Or has it?


The irony is that while being grounded seems a waste of time, it can actually be a gift of time.   As I reflect now on life’s delays and plan changes, I realize that being grounded is sometimes the ultimate gift of more time to rest, plan, prepare, and perfect; to be fully ready to take advantage when my best opportunity arises.  It’s my choice how I use my time when I’m grounded.  I’ve started moving from bemoaning the situation to better managing the time to be fully prepared for an opportunity to fly.

A quick Google search provides the definitions of grounded:

  • a parent refusing to allow a child to go out socially as punishment
  • to prohibit or prevent (a pilot or aircraft) from flying
  • a person who understands what’s important in life

When a parent grounds a child it is the parent’s experience and wisdom guiding them to deter the child’s unwanted or bad behavior.  It is a push for more positive behavior and outcomes.  When a plane is grounded, it is the experience and wisdom of the pilots, air traffic controllers, mechanics, and aviation experts who make the decision to delay the flight.  When a person is described as grounded, it is their experience and wisdom that enables them to focus on what’s important in life.  A person who is grounded can prioritize those investments of time, energy and attention that will yield the most rewarding outcomes.

When I think back on the groundings of my youth with clarity and perspective, I realize that these distraction free periods actually enabled me to be a better student.  Without the distractions of the telephone (landline in my day), parties and other outings, my focus was more intense and there was a palpable difference between being a good student and dedicating time to being a great student.  It helped add a measure of discipline to my young life that I was lacking.


And, as someone who has had my share of hours watching an airport monitor change from a flight delay to a flight cancellation, I’ve got experience being grounded in airports.  Often viewed as a waste of my time, when I again reflect with my hindsight 20/20 vision and a more mature perspective, I realize that my time was better spent focusing on how to be productive and make great use of the time while I was grounded versus focusing on what I was missing.  Just like a mechanic who is called to fix the plane, it can be my opportunity to focus on and make my own repairs and improvements.  The mechanics use this grounded time to put the plane in a better position to have a safe flight at a great altitude.  Maybe being grounded is a sign that I’m not (yet) ready to fly.

For sure, being grounded is a time to think really hard about what’s led me to this place and where I’m trying to go.  At times, it’s definitely meant that I’m burnt out.  Maybe I’ve used too much time, attention and energy on things outside of myself.  Maybe I need some physical or mental rest.  I need to refuel.  Maybe I just need time to stop neglecting my needs and focus on me.  Life’s distractions can find a way of pushing us away from our needs.  We can stop nurturing ourselves in constant haste to get from here to there and back again.


Finally, by being grounded, I can become more grounded.  Without distractions, with a focus on making better use of my time, with a focus on me, I can prioritize and truly zero in on those things that are important in life, those things that will help me get off the ground when my time is right.

Sometimes, no maturity or perspective can change the fact that being grounded can suck, especially when there seems to be no rhyme or reason why.  We don’t deserve bad things to happen to us.  I’m just learning to change my approach to how I use the time.  When it appears that there are no introspective moments that provide clarity, this may be the clear sign that it is simply just time to rest and recharge.

I’m reconstructing life after breast cancer and these lessons are much clearer to me now.  Each time I’m grounded, I have to be more attune to the chance to make the best use of my time.   The 5 important lessons I’ve learned from being grounded are:

  1. Being grounded provides an opportunity to change a behavior
  2. Being grounded provides an opportunity to focus on making (personal) improvements and working toward excellence
  3. Being grounded provides an opportunity to rest and refuel
  4. Being grounded provides an opportunity to nurture myself
  5. My changes that come from being grounded allow me to live a life that is in step with what’s valuable and important to me

At the very least, I owe it to myself when I’m grounded to be reflective and introspective to determine how to best use and manage my downtime.  During chemo, I couldn’t walk a city block without extreme fatigue.  I needed rest to heal.  Now, post treatment, I’m a distance runner who has completed a half marathon and three 10 mile races.  I hated being laid off, but found it a beautiful time to spend more time at school with my small children.  I was able to attend daytime school events and presentations, sit at school performances without a laptop in tow and a cell phone in my ear, half listening to a work conference call.  And surely one of my prayers when I was diagnosed with breast cancer was having the opportunity to watch my children grow up.  With this gift of time, I was able to do so with far less interruption from the seemingly never ending call of the corporate world.  I was able to move away from the early morning, late afternoon meetings, the stressful deadlines and the unreasonable demands of my corporate grind.  I’ve transitioned to writing, speaking, and coaching; things that I love and that provide such fulfillment and joy that I wouldn’t have been able to do while sitting in my cubicle.

As adults, we are no longer under our parents’ watch and constant care.  But, God and life have a way of redirecting us, grounding us, when we would otherwise be going in the wrong direction.  I didn’t get to the beach last weekend, but got the opportunity to spend some wonderful days with my family and friends that truly fed my soul.  When a business opportunity doesn’t come to fruition (yet), when a financial investment doesn’t show great reward (yet), when a personal opportunity doesn’t yield positive results (yet) and I’m grounded, I have to remember that it may be a sign that I need to rest and then put in more work, more planning, more preparation in order for me to be ready to take flight and soar!


Melanie A. Nix – Triple negative breast cancer survivor.  Resilience Coach, Reconstructionist™ and Health and Wellness Advocate.  Always striving to color outside of the lines when defining my new normal.

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