I was talking to my son the other day about his schoolwork and some frustrations he was having. He is a good kid and is in all honors classes. I have noticed though, as the years go on, that school which was once relatively easy and fun for him has become much more of a chore. While not commenting on the varying degrees of teacher quality we have encountered along the way (which is troubling), I believe he is going through something we all go through in life. Rarely is our individual curve always upward sloping and everything comes easy for us. Sure, some people are seemingly blessed in certain aspects of life, but for the most part we all hit periods of frustration, disappointment, and/or low motivation. When you have a passion or care about something it is much easier to marshal the energy required to work through the rough patches. When it is something you have to do rather than want to do, it isn’t always so easy.
During the conversation with my son, we discussed four things that help you get through these difficult periods: Ability, Humility, Effort and Attitude:
Life rewards persistence. Too many people give up too soon and never get to fully realize their potential or dreams. Success isn’t just about luck or good fortune. It is more about focus, hard work, determination and resolve. Everyone’s life journey has bumps along the way. Keep pressing forward even when it’s hard. Obstacles strewn along our path are just opportunities to further build our character. They also test how much we truly want something. If success always came easily then it really wouldn’t mean anything.
At the risk of sounding like an old codger (which I am not), I can’t believe how worked up people get up over common issues these days. It’s almost as if any level of adversity is intolerable. You would have thought the end the world was near the way everyone especially the media reacted to the recent winter storm. We were bombarded with worst case scenarios and impending doom. People raced to stores to stock up just in case they lost power for a few days. My goodness, can’t we handle a few days of discomfort if required? As a friend said yesterday, “Why the huge interest in toilet paper, can families really not survive a few days without TP?” Are they that close to the edge of hygienic catastrophe? I’ve seen it happen in families, businesses, schools, and communities: if you are not careful, weakness and worry is infectious. Like all significant change, it all starts with small symbolic gestures and begins to gain momentum elsewhere.
I am in the process of reading Gordon Livingston’s great new book, The Thing you Think You Cannot Do, and as usual he delivers many useful tidbits of helpful information and a wise perspective. In one chapter, he talks about the importance of asking the question, “What next?” While his clinical therapy patients may often be dealing with much more significant challenges than my clients, as human beings we all have things that hold us back and inhibit our positive momentum. It’s easy to get mired in the past or caught up with the urgency of managing now. Many of us are far too quick to embrace the role of victim and tell our sad stories to anyone who will listen. We end up creating negative energy which hinders our ability to move on and create a positive future. I’m not saying we don’t have to make peace with what has happened, but the best way to get out of hole is not to keep digging deeper but to climb out.
I attended a youth soccer game and a professional hockey game this weekend and it was interesting to watch how both groups handled frustration and adversity. As would be expected the kids had a much more difficult time with it. With a few exceptions, they were quick to get down on themselves and hang their heads. After a couple of unlucky plays they started to unravel and forget their training. It became increasingly obvious that many of them just gave up on winning well before this should have been the case. The pros on the other hand kept plugging away and fighting through their unlucky breaks. Their hard work and resilience paid off. Eventually things turned around for them and they won the game.
I’m not saying this just to state the obvious that professional athletes have more mental toughness than children, but instead to point out the importance of never giving up.
You need more than talent to succeed as a leader. You will have lead when it’s hard not just when it’s easy. Your mettle will be tested. You will be under a constant spotlight and have no shortage of critics. Sometimes it will feel like the cards are stacked against you and your options are limited. You will get knocked down repeatedly and have to get back up. Others will look to you to solve problems they cannot or will not handle. You will need to be resilient in the face of adversity and give your people direction and hope. You will need to be the calming influence in the midst of a storm. You must learn from your mistakes (there will be many) and use this knowledge to get better. You will be humbled and sometimes lose even when you do your best. You will have to regularly outwork, outthink and outperform your competition.
I don’t often write about spiritual or faith issues in my blog because for the most part I believe these are personal decisions. There are also many other people more capable and better equipped than me to address the issue. I’m comfortable in my own beliefs and hope you are in your own as well. However, I do feel strongly that there is a direct correlation between an individual’s belief structure and their level of happiness and capacity for resilience. Life is much more meaningful if you believe you are part of something bigger than yourself and there is a reason for being here beyond survival and personal comfort.
Henry Ford has a famous quote, ‘if you think you can do a thing or you think you can’t do a thing, your right.” I believe this sums up most of life quite nicely. Self-confidence and self-belief do matter. So much about success and happiness is related to your mental attitude and emotional resilience. Some of us may have a harder time than others or start out with more baggage, but the history of civilization proves that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things and overcome great obstacles in the process. While it may seem easier at times to give up or give in, you must fight these feelings, forge ahead and persevere. Never embrace failure and unhappiness as your default reality.
No one is ever completely protected from the bad things that can happen in life. Each of us will have to deal with disappointment, loss, grief and despair at some point. All we can do is protect ourselves as best as we can through a reasonable approach to risk management and an ongoing commitment to personal growth and development. There are obviously many things we can’t control in our external environments including the actions of others. However, we can increase our internal capacity to manage whatever comes our way.
It is inevitable that everything must some day end. Sometimes it is of our own choosing other times it is not. However, nothing lasts forever. This can be a hard concept to accept especially when you are the midst of something important, special or significant.
What defines a life is how we deal with the unexpected. Adversity and challenge will rise up and confront us all, sometimes when we LEAST expect it. We will feel that we did everything right and still things didn’t work out. What then? Bad things do happen to good people.
As we commence a new work week it worth reflecting on the idea that tomorrow is another day. Whatever happened last week is gone. Hopefully you had a nice weekend with ample opportunity to relax and recharge. Monday starts the week anew. We get a chance to start over and have a good week (or not). What we do know is that regardless of what happens we will be in this same position seven days from now. In fact, on Tuesday we get to improve upon Monday and so it goes all week long.
Life rewards resilience. Each of us will experience highs and lows. There will be moments where we feel we can do no wrong and others where very little seems to go right. We may feel on top of our game professionally, but struggling personally and vice versa. It is all part of the journey.