“There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time”. ~ Malcom X
There is no doubt that life can be hard. Maybe your life is hard right now as you read this article. Maybe your career, your work, or your home life is struggling. The world is also going through challenging times as many people in many countries are dealing with the uncertainty of political unrest, or the aftermath of natural disaster. Hard times show up in our lives from time to time, usually uninvited, unannounced and undesired. As you work on your own personal leadership, you will face some hard times as you push the envelope of what is the standard vs. what is possible for yourself, your business, your team and your organization. I find that most challenges fall into one or more of a few general categories. Here are five of the common ones:
1. Loss: We are going to lose things in this lifetime. Whether it is loss of an account, a job, a promotion, a relationship or the loss of a loved one, loss can have a huge impact on us. Let loss give you pause. Let it allow you to appreciate what you had and what you have now. Loss is not about stopping but rather pause, evaluate and recover. Then, get up and keep going. “Loss is nothing else but change and change is nature’s delight”. Marcus Aurelius
2. Defeat: Defeat means you’re in the game. It’s part of the territory. If you’re not willing to lose, then don’t play. You must accept that defeat happens. You won’t get every client that you want, every change initiative to succeed, every promotion, job or girl or boyfriend. You can’t be on the sidelines in fear of defeat and call yourself a winner. Mother Theresa said it best “What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway”.
3. Failure: Failure, like defeat, means that you are challenging yourself. If you never fail, then you are too careful. What are you protecting yourself from? Successful people have a long list of failures from which they have learned. Skiers crash, entrepreneurs close a business, CEO’s get fired, top quarterbacks throw interceptions and parents punish a child before they get all the facts. Toddlers keep trying to walk even after they fall! Remember, only the mediocre are always at their very best. AND, if you want to have some good stories to tell your family one day, the ones about failure are the ones that people will actually listen to. Until you are willing to risk failure, then you will never actually achieve. Failure is not the problem. Our own story about failure is what gets in the way of our growing through failure.
4. Adversity: The “hard” is often what makes our achievements great. It’s what gives our effort meaning. Sometimes it is the struggle that not only challenges you but makes you. Lean into the struggle. It will always teach you. Let go of the notion of “easy” or “guarantees” and you’ll have more available energy for addressing the adversity. Nobody gets stronger by lifting zero lb. weights. Be more stubborn than the problem!
5. Ambiguity: There is nothing like ambiguity to turn a high achieving person or organization on it’s proverbial ear. We as humans like to have some control over our lives. We like predictability (when it goes our way). We constantly choose security and safety over the risk of the unknown. If you’re going to lead then you are going to have to deal with ambiguity. It’s not going away and to the extent that you can tolerate it, deal with it, even embrace it at times, then you will be able to manage yourself and others much more effectively. If you can’t deal with ambiguity, then you will be rushing to fix a problem that either may not be defined yet, is not the problem, or does not even need fixing or want fixing (like a person who just needs to be heard).
Facing these challenges is part of the privilege of being alive.
Here are some strategies to help you through some hard times:
1. Acknowledge the hard: Sometimes trying to deny that things are hard is as counterproductive as convincing yourself that things aren’t that bad. Often the simple act of acknowledging can free up the energy that you were using in trying to deny your experience. You can acknowledge this “hard” for yourself, an employee or your entire team.
2. Remind yourself of the hard times that you’ve made it through in life: Walk into a doctor’s office and often you’ll see the diplomas and board certifications displayed proudly up on a wall. They serve as a reminder of the hard work that doctor did in order to have the opportunity to work in his or her profession. Take time to remember the hard work and tough times that have challenged you but didn’t sink you. Remind yourself of your hard work and accomplishments.
3. Ask for help: What’s your pattern around tough times? I often notice that in the most difficult of times is when many of us try and go it alone. Whether it is a colleague, a partner, friend, your manager or your coach, reach out and ask for help. Utilize the support that you have when you need it most. Click here to read more about asking for help.
4. Self care: Depending on what happened, you may be a little bruised. Take some time to heal. A massage, a weekend away, or dinner with a friend are just a few things that you can do to take care of yourself.
5. Evaluate: Hard times have a way of hijacking our thinking directly into the deep end of despair. Take some time to evaluate your current situation and not just the story of it. Even if the current situation is bleak, you can’t take a useful next step towards where you want to go, without first understanding where you really are.
6. Make a plan, take a step: Hard times have a way of paralyzing us. That’s because we think that we have to solve it all in one day or one action. Not so. Evaluate your current situation and think about where you want to go. How would you like things to be? What’s one thing that you can do to move towards that place? Take time to decide on your next step and then do it. If you can’t decide what the next step is, then ask yourself this question, “What’s one thing that I can do to ensure that this bad situation stays bad?”, then do the opposite.
7. Help somebody else: Sometimes getting our own problems addressed is just not possible, or accessible. There are plenty of studies that indicate that helping others, we actually help ourselves as well. If you can’t figure out how to get yourself through a tough time, consider giving yourself a break and help somebody else. That way, two people can feel better.
Leadership is not about never falling. Leadership is about getting up after you fall. Leadership is about realizing when you DID fall. Leadership is learning and moving forward. In other words, leaders acknowledge, accept, evaluate, learn and try again. And what comes from all this falling and getting up again? Every time you get up, learn, and keep on going you gain strength, resilience, perseverance and confidence which all tally up to ~ GROWTH! Every hardship presents us the opportunity to grow in knowledge, experience, resilience, strength and even compassion for ourselves and for others.
I am not suggesting that you seek out a life of failure and adversity just so you can grow. We all need to heal and recover and to enjoy the times in life when we can experience success, joy, happiness, love and even bliss. I certainly want more happiness and success in my life than I want loss and failure. My intention is to provide you with support and another perspective on those times that are hard, so that you can move through them with a bit less suffering, more learning, and more room to create what’s next in your leadership journey.
“If you get up one more time than you fall, then you will make it through.” Chinese Proverb
Thank you for reading. I wish you all continued courage, support, energy and success as you continue down the road of your leadership journey. Please share your thoughts, ideas and comments with others in the comment section below.
Larysa Slobodian, MA
Principal Consultant, L4 Leadership LLC