We’ve all heard the expression “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The idea is that working through adversity makes you tougher and wiser. Most of us grow not just from what we’ve experienced, but from what we’ve endured.
It’s easy to embrace this idea once you’ve overcome adversity and are in a stable place. Anyone can look back and laugh, feel gratitude, etc. But in real time? That’s tough.
Like many of you, I’ve felt the impact of the pandemic on my business. As a public speaker, I generally work at live events. My calendar has taken a huge hit.
Early on when I started feeling the financial effects of the pandemic, I took myself through an exercise I’ve taken others through that provided a lot of perspective. I charted the highs (represented by green dots) and lows (red dots) of my life since college. Highs included getting into NYU film school, my first professional speech and getting engaged. Lows included a diagnosis of cancer while in film school, closing a business and my fiancée ending the engagement. Take a look at this short video of me describing the process and what I realized:
That final red dot on my graph is the coronavirus and its impact on my business.
When you look at my entire life over time, you’ll notice a pattern. Every major low point comes just before a major high point. In fact, all of my high points were a result of the low points. These challenges facilitated unpleasant but ultimately wonderful changes. They forced me to think differently, see things differently and, most important, act differently. The opened me to opportunities I hadn’t seen or considered.
At the same time, every low point had me feeling helpless and hopeless, no matter how many times I’d bounced back from past adversity. But they did, in fact, make me stronger and contribute to my growth. I wouldn’t undo any of them. If the patterns continues, I’m on the verge of my greatest accomplishments yet. I’ve got some big plans and a new book coming out, so there’s plenty of reason to be hopeful.
The journey through adversity is frightening. Humans don’t do well with uncertainty. We’re programmed to be in control. Most of us don’t think about how vulnerable our businesses are to a changing economy, new government regulation or a global health crisis. Most days these factors are stable, and often they’re working in our favor. When these conditions change, it really throws us.
The best you can do is focus on where you do have control. And as scary as things are right now, there’s a lot you can do to re-empower yourself and take back some control. Here are a few ideas:
Clear Your Head
Always start here, not matter what the problem is. The emotional effect of business problems always kicks in before any financial effect. Those emotions have a way of clouding our perspective and judgement. It’s easy in times like these to envision the worst-case scenario and act accordingly. Many people will live to regret the choices they’re making now out of fear or desperation. Avoid making any big decision until your head is clear and your mood is calm. A slow decision is not the same as indecision.
Focus on the Facts
There’s a difference between “My business is dying!” and “My business is down 40%.” Catch yourself being subjective. Try making a list of every problem, concern, worry and issue. Then rewrite each one without any interpretation or prediction. Just state what is, based on facts. Your problem might be “I can’t find any good employees!” Rewrite this as “I need to find two more qualified employees.” You can restate “I’m going broke!” as “I’ve accumulated $25K of debt.” Focusing on facts doesn’t change your circumstances. It just removes the emotion and makes them easier to manage.
When we get overwhelmed, a survival mechanism in our brain called the amygdala gets activated. This region of the brain is responsible for intense alertness and our fight or flight response. When it’s active, it blocks the neural pathways to the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain associated with logic, reason and problem-solving. This means that when we’re freaking out, it’s harder to manage our issues. Focusing on one matter at a time reduces overwhelm and allows us to access our prefrontal cortex more quickly. It’s literally easier to wrap your brain around one thing. So deal with your challenges in bite-sized chunks.
Change Things Up
You’re probably tired of the phrase “adapt to change” and “pivot.” Think instead about finding new opportunities. Your products, your services or your ideas might have value now in ways you haven’t considered. While my live speaking engagements have dropped in numbers, my virtual presentations are way up as is my 1:1 franchise and small business coaching practice. In the long run, these services may play a larger role in the way I serve my clients, perhaps with a net gain. None of us are entitled to the way things used to be. Be open to shaking things up and you might find things will get a whole lot better.
Most people are in survival mode. Perhaps this is the time to be the most aggressive, to aspire to your greatest heights yet. There are always opportunities, especially for those willing to take some risks. Courage doesn’t mean you have no fear. It means you do have fear but go for it anyway. Now’s the time to take that big step, to make that scary phone call or to submit that big proposal. We tend to get answers to the questions we ask. So instead of asking how you’re going to get through this, ask what can you do to thrive.
It’s temping now to wait out the pandemic. Unfortunately there’s no end in sight. Take some control back by remaining active. Part of that is through personal coping. Other parts are about securing more capitol and credit. Redesign your business based on the current landscape. Or start a new one. We need to wrap our work around current circumstances rather than waiting for circumstances to accommodate the work we want to do.
Serve at the Highest Level
Consumers are pretty raw right now. Everyone’s feeling the pandemic. They appreciate anyone who makes their lives easier. Whether it’s through better pricing, new products or services, safer ways to deliver your offerings or just more attention, they’ll remember the accommodations you make. Be an answer to their problems or a source of joy during difficult times.
Good fortune often presents itself as adversity in disguise. It’s hard to know when you’re in the middle of it. But the more open you can be in your heart and mind, the greater the likelihood you’ll find the solutions, and the greater the chance opportunity will find you.