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Six Lessons From being Stuck In An Elevator

This morning, heading out the door for a morning bike ride, the elevator in our condo suddenly shuddered to a stop on Level 6.  Thinking it was simply stopping to pick up another early bird on the way out the door, I patiently waited – and waited – for the doors to open, to no avail.  I’d like to share the six lessons I learned about difficult situations from this morning’s events.  You think running a startup is a lonely business?  Try being stuck in a lift…


  1. When you’re in a difficult situation, don’t panic

It would have been easy to lose control when you’re locked in a box with no perceived way out.  But hyperventilating won’t get you out of it – the calmer you are, the better you’ll think, and the better you think, the better the actions you’ll take.  Crap, I thought, the lift has broken.  Now what?


  1. Ask for help

See that little phone symbol?  Press it.  Call someone, call for help, lean on your network.  You know who your true friends are in times of trouble.  My friends this morning were the condo guards at the end of the “Emergency” line.


  1. Communicate clearly for the information you need

I asked the guards to come and open the door.  We can’t do that, they said, but we’ll call the emergency elevator repair people.  OK, I said, how long will they take?  It’s the emergency line, they said.  Yes, but how long will they take to turn up and get me out?  Ah, they’re the emergency people, they’re coming soon, they said.

[Pause to take a deep breath]

OK, I said, when you’ve called these guys before, how long until they arrive?  Oh, fifteen to twenty minutes.

Right, I said.  Please use the other lift to go up to my condo and tell my wife what’s happened so she doesn’t worry – I don’t have my phone to call her.  Sure, said the guards, can.

If I’d lost my temper, or shouted, I wouldn’t have got the clarity about my situation that I needed, and my wife could have been unnecessarily worried from lack of information.  By communicating as clearly as possible, and continuing to communicate until I got the information I needed, I knew that actions were in train to get the outcome I wanted.


  1. Don’t waste time and don’t be helpless

OK, I’m stuck in a box.  I was going out to get 20-30 minutes of exercise, and now I can’t.  Right?  No, wait…I can still do squats, lunges, and a strange sort of incline push up in here, and it won’t be rocking the lift too much.  May as well make the most of it.


  1. Participate in your own rescue

I’ve been advised that it’s a really, really bad idea to try to open an elevator door when you’re stuck in one – especially if you already know help is on the way.  In the interests of safety, please, wait for help.

I didn’t, I forced open the doors.  The lessons I picked up here from the event and from conversations afterwards are two-fold: firstly, there are times when you need to rely on the experts, especially if your safety is at stake.  They’ve been trained to solve the problem you’re facing, after all.

The second point is that sometimes, though, we sit and wait for a miracle to occur when we should be getting up and doing something.  You need to think about the situation you’re in, and make a call about when to participate in your own rescue.  Sometimes, you need to get up and do something – and sometimes, calling for help is the right first step!


  1. Pay it forward

I’m obviously sharing this with you now, but I also talked to my family about it when I went upstairs.  My wife and one of my daughters both said “Oh, I would have got quite upset and nervous being stuck in there!” I was happy to be able to talk them through what I learned, and ensure that if they ever get into the same situation, they have a framework and a plan so they don’t have to panic.


So there you have it – six lessons from being in a box for twenty minutes.  Hope you found my misfortune valuable!