Thinking Clearly during Transition: Build a Gazebo

Stressed? Build one of these, or something like it.

Stressed? Build one of these, or something like it.

It was during a workshop in which I was talking with a group of professionals-in-transition that one gentleman in the audience asked me if it was okay for him to take a week or two off from job-seeking so that he could build a gazebo in his back yard. It was something he had wanted to do for his family for a long time, but he had never been able to get around to it because he had spent too many weekends stuck at the office. He wanted to know if it was wrong to take time to do this when a part of him felt he really should be out looking for his next job.

Clearly, he was looking for permission to step away from the work of finding work. I told him that it was absolutely the right thing to do; in fact, I have long held the belief that everyone in a position of stress, confusion, or overload should go out and build a gazebo of their own. Everyone who is thrown into the soul-wrenching position of losing identity, career, and financial stability should, as a first step, take on some activity that allows time to flush out the panic through physical distraction: a catalyst for reflection.

To set out to build a gazebo is to undertake a physical activity in which body and mind become focused on a plan of action unrelated to life and its current problems. When both body and mind become occupied in this manner, even when the gazebo-building work gets strenuous, there is relaxation that comes in the form of a positive stress called eustress. When both the body and mind relax, blood pressure drops, reflection happens, and then creative thought happens.

Action creates positive stress which helps solve problems.

Some people might turn to a week of playing tennis, or of long walks with the dog, or of painting (either with an easel, or on the living room walls with a roller), or of tidying the yard or building a deck. What is most important is that you choose a solitary activity in which body and mind focus on constructive work. There will be time for discussing your findings and thoughts with your mentor later. For now, you need some time to slow down and let the thoughts come.

Remember, this is not a chronic assignment, just as unemployment need not be a chronic condition. The gazebo project might take a week, or two. It symbolizes not just a mind-and-body focused activity but a finite activity as well. Upon completion of the project, you’ll be ready for the next chapter of your life.

By slowing down in this fashion to work on your personal gazebo, you allow for significant, salient thoughts to emerge and rise to the top, unfettered by the trivial priorities of email and meetings. Questions will emerge, in your expanding, thinking mind, such as:

  • What do I value?
  • What do I like to do?
  • In my heart, what does my next job look like?
  • What hours and conditions would suit me best?
  • What do I wish to achieve? What companies interest me, regardless of whether they currently have openings or not?
  • Who do I know that can help me and what should I say to these people?
  • How would an ideal job fit with my ideal balanced life?

Focusing on an unrelated topic such as building a gazebo gives your mind permission to massage and work on these questions without the stress of applying hard focus to them. This is indirect thinking, and in just the same manner that slow is so often quicker than fast when seeking to attain a goal, so indirect thinking leads to resolution faster than direct thinking does.

(Excerpted and abridged from my book “Work Like a Wolf.” To purchase the book visit


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