At different times in our lives we all feel like there’s a little bit too much rain coming our way, we feel overwhelmed and we just can’t see a way through what feel like immovable road blocks?
It could be our relationships, serious misadventures, our careers or our health.
As David Brooks the Author of The Road To Character says when you ask somebody, "What's the experience that really made you who you are today?" I've never met anybody who says, "I went on this amazing vacation in Hawaii and that made me who I am today." Nobody ever says that. When people talk about the experiences that are most shaping and transformational, they tend to involve some struggle. I’m all for great meals and great fun, but most people want a life of meaning and that sometimes involves some struggle and sometimes moments of unhappiness.
WHATS YOUR BLOCKER?
I want you to try and bring to mind something current or past where you had real headwinds in front of you, something blocking your path towards what you were hoping would be a better life. It doesn’t matter what it is, just do your best to take your mind back to that place. The key is it needs to be one of the really hard calls you are or have had to make in your life. Really try and image the tension, fear & confusion that faced you at the time, then think about the way you approached the decision making around it.
Keep that tucked away for a little bit later.
This image for me is a great way to think about a healthy life.
In my view a well-balanced life of growth, learning and progress will not be a straight line, it will still have obstacles and sometimes really difficult ones, some will be self-inflicted like many of mine, some outside of our control but even when you master the art of moving through real adversity, making hard calls and growth, your life will never be a free flowing unobstructed river.
In fact this frame of thinking is at the core of what I believe to be key to managing adversity when it comes your way.
So let’s channel your moment.
To set the mood I would like to show you this video from the TV series Ozark.
The show recreates the tension and despair of an everyman caught in a world totally out of his frame of experience.
To set it up Marty is a gifted financial adviser, he knows all the ins-and-outs of the federal tax code and any loophole or law to do with money. He and his business partner had been secretly laundering money for crime lord Del (Esai Morales) for years.
Unbeknown to Marty, his partner had been skimming millions off the top. Del finds out and gets trigger-happy. In a last-ditch effort to save his life, Marty makes a proposition to Del: He and his family will move to the Ozarks, a cash-rich holiday spot to continue the laundering operation, and pay back the millions his partner stole.
Let’s watch the video.
Now let’s hope you never find yourself in something as heavy as this J
Famous Australian Business People’s Movie Scene
People who achieve serious success in business have often found themselves in movie like scenes of EXTREME stress let’s take a look at two of Australia’s most well know business success stories extreme moments.
Harold Mitchell one of Australia’s great business success stories whose achievements have spanned business, the arts and philanthropy this story is in the prologue of his true life business book that starts out like a movie scene
“It’s 1990 and a glorious autumn Saturday morning in country Victoria. The sky is an azure canvas, smudged here and there with some whipped cream clouds. It’s 5.30am and I can’t sleep so I get up and wander around the bushland surrounding the house. The magpies are making their beautiful warble; the sun is rising over the valley beyond our house.
And that’s when the first tears come. I hold onto our fence, look over at the bushland and stand there and cry. I am 32 Million dollars in debt, through no fault of my own. It’s so much money it’s almost ridiculous to contemplate.
I have nothing to pay it back with. I am a banker’s pen stroke away from losing everything even the house to which I bought up my two beautiful children Stuart & Amanda.
Could this be the reward for all my hard work? Life should have been perfect. The weekend dragged on, I was out of sorts, couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t sleep, wondered where I was going, I wondered what would happen to us.
How could I get out of this?
And he did….. Ultimately repaying that $32 Million & amassing a business empire that would see him become one of the wealthiest people in Australia as well as significant philanthropist.
Aussie John Symond
John Symond hit rock bottom in Sydney's Pitt Street mall. It was 1991 and his property finance business - the precursor to Aussie Home Loans - had just collapsed. When he tried to buy an $80 tie on his credit card, the salesman rang for approval, then, when it was denied, cut up the card in front of Symond and a queue of shoppers. "I felt like a criminal," says Symond now. "Everyone was watching. It was absolute personal humiliation."
Fast forward 14 years and Symond, 57, is worth $470 million according to this year's BRW rich list. His privately owned Aussie Home Loans has 1000 staff and $17 billion in home loans and Symond is building a 5000-square-metre mansion - costing more than $20 million - in Sydney's exclusive Point Piper. "Not a day goes by," he says, "that I don't pinch myself and think how fortunate I am." "I know what it is like to grow up with nothing, I know what it is like losing everything, lose your home, lose your marriage, go to bed crying at night worried about how you are going to educate your kids,'' he says.
``When you come out of it, and if you become successful, it enables you to be able to help people still in those circumstances.''
So maybe it doesn’t get that extreme for all of us BUT when you find yourself in a tough spot or starting a startup, launching a new career or business I have put down 6 Steps that might help you grapple with your moments.
6 Steps from Confusion to Clarity
Step 1. Ju
When serious forces turn against you in life the very worst thing you can do is meet it head on in an attempt to smash it into submission. The very nature of serious life circumstances are usually complex and forceful and one blow is unlikely to do the job. You must FLEX, conserve energy and give yourself the time and clarity you need to do step 2.
‘Ju’ the root origin of that word is Sino-Japanese and many people have equated gentle with weak, when in fact the character contains more an idea of flexibility, in both mind and body. When a bamboo or willow branch is laden down with snow, it yields; it is flexible towards the new ‘circumstances’, and by yielding it allows the snow to fall to the ground, preserving its own existence and springing back into place with more force and speed than was employed in its yielding and bending action. The concept of Ju therefore implies flexibility and suppleness in direct proportion to subsequent speed and force.
Step 2. Perspective
The very next thing you must do is get some serious perspective and quick.
I want you to picture this, you get to take a ride in a plane that can travel at the speed of light, that plane will let you loop the earth 7.5 times in wait for it…… 1 second.
Now how long do you think it would take to get to the moon in that plane?
Now picture our Sun, if you were to think of it like a jar how many earths could you fit into it?
1 million of them
How long would it take in a passenger airplane to circle our sun once?
BUT our sun is tiny compared to the biggest star we know in our Milky Way called UY Scuti where it would take 1,100 years in that same plane to go around it once.
BUT still that is nothing compared to the size of our Milky Way.
Let’s jump back into our speed of light plane that can get us to the moon in 1.3 secs or around the earth 7.5 times in a second and see how long it would take us to get from one end to the other?
Well I hope you enjoy your wife's or hubby’s company and they have good inflight entertainment because we have 100,000 years of movie watching folks.
BUT wait there is more…..and they aren’t steak knives.
How many Milky Way type galaxies do we think there are in the observable universe?
2 trillion, 2,000 million of them
And how long do you think it would take us in our speed of light plane to get to our closet neighbor/suburb/galaxy once you reach the end of the Milky Way?
2.5 Million years away and the total flight time across the observable universe is…… flight time 93 billion years.
Now that is an extreme form of perspective but staring into the night sky on a nice long walk thinking about the true vastness of our universe and our small place in it does it for me!
Step 3. Diagnosing
Identifying the Most Important Thing/s is key here, Pro’s & Cons list Benjamin Franklin Style just don’t cut it on the Hard Calls you need to find the non-negotiables, that you must have addressed right now. Dr Foster “What do I do Know? Decision making book is something I highly recommend.
If your car won’t start worrying about the dent in the front bumper is just wasted energy. Pro’s & Con’s List’s Just Don’t Cut It for the Hard Calls.
The problem is, it is terribly inadequate for anything other than the most simple of decisions, an example in a non-business setting, that people can relate to, is the choice of leaving or staying in a relationship where you still care deeply for your partner but for other reasons feel you need to move on.
If you make a list for something as difficult as that, if one side of the list, Pro or Con is longer, it often gives you no real clue to how you feel or even what is the right decision to make and the reason is simple…….
It’s because in important matters it’s not the number of things in a list, it’s the weight of importance they have to the outcome but even that’s not enough you need a much more powerful framework.
Isolating the Non Negotiables
When you are making important decisions the very best thing you can do is try an isolate the thing you must have or you must avoid in the outcome, the non-negotiable/s , the things that no matter what, you must attempt to have them addressed.
Immediately the list gets much smaller, which is a great start and more importantly it creates a robust and intelligent filter from which to put your thinking or list through.
Even very blurry situations get a lot clearer when you do this, it doesn’t mean the pain of making the decision goes away, Hard Calls always leave you with that task, but they focus you in on what needs to happen and quickly.
Step 4. Reframing
Einstein said “Imagination is more important than knowledge” and it is the skill you need to lean on here to make sure you are seeing all the angles before you out the pieces back together.
Complex situations are usually not one dimensional, they have lots of moving parts as Ben Horowitz says about technology startups.
“This is not checkers; this is mutherfuckin’ chess – Technology businesses tend to be extremely complex. The underlying technology moves, the competition moves, the market moves, the people move. As a result, like playing three-dimensional chess on Star Trek, there is always a move. You think you have no moves? There is always a move.”
You need to reframe your current state of affairs, tidy up your mental desk and create a new positive narrative for a way forward, if you do X and Y in this specific way you can thread that needle and good things will happen and you need to let yourself believe and feel it as if you had thread that needle and got to the other side, hope is key here.
Ben Horowitz a famous VC in the US talks about how racing car drivers are taught to focus on the road, because if they even think of the wall they will hit it.
And finally you need to make decisions to make things wonderful. Great decision makers say, "I'll never stop basing my decisions on my dreams.”
Step 5. Pick 1-3 Things to Action
This Kill Bill image depicts perfectly the scenario when you are in a complex situation. You need to pick 1 to 3 specific actionable things you can do right now toward that threading the needle plan and do them as quickly as the situation allows. Fast action is key at this stage. The guy at the very back of this picture is not Uma Thurman’s main problem her immediate threat needs to be her priority. Basically you’re addressing “The Most Important Thing/s” from the step 3. Diagnosing stage.
Has anyone seen the movie End of Tomorrow?
The plot of the movie describes perfectly the process you need to run in fast moving, highly dynamic situations where you are trying to thread a needle.
For those of you who haven’t seen the movie it is set around the world being taken over by Aliens and Tom Cruise & Emily Blunt have a special power that enables them to go into a critical battle, try a plan of attack and die trying, to be able to come back, adjust and try again and again and again until they find a way to thread that needle and that’s exactly what you need to do here.
Rinse & Rinse steps 3-5 at rapid cycle, the more moving parts and seriousness in the situation the more rapid the cycle needs to be, as you take action new circumstances will be presented to you and you Rinse & Repeat steps 3-5.
After 2 or 3 cycles it will serve you well to go back to Step 1. And reset as its important you step back because in Hard Calls situations things can change shape very quickly.
It is exactly how it feels to run a business where you are trying lots of new ways to grow and succeed, testing, failing and trying again to find that sweet spot. It’s especially true in technology SaaS startups looking for product market fit.
How do you know if you’re making the right calls as you keep making the next best decision on the way through this process?
It’s a simple test but very effective, isolate the two possible choices you have left, I either do X or Y in this situation and A or B will be the likely outcome.
The trick is to focus on the outcome side of the decision and put it to a coin toss, yes a coin toss.
Prior to the tossing of the coin visualize A really playing out, try and focus on how you will really feel then do the same for B, let your imagination go there properly.
Then put A on Tails & B on Heads or the other way, it doesn’t matter, then toss away.
WHAT'S YOUR NEXT MOVE?
“Into each life, a little rain must fall” and sometimes it will feel like too much is falling on you BUT as adversity is a precursor material to meaning in life. Most of the things we will remember and cherish will come with adversity as part of the package.
We all feel like our lives are like that Jenga Block tower, finely balanced and any move we make and the whole thing can come crashing down, but you gotta make a move or nothing will change.
So next time you feel overwhelmed, stuck or confused about your next move, think of the rain as a blessing, an omen if you like of good things to come and smile as you plan to make that next move!