We live in a world full of challenge. All you need to do is listen to the news or tune into coffee shop conversation and it seems like a lot of folks are all living with a lot of chaos. Governments, cities and individuals alike are facing unprecedented challenge in how to navigate an increasingly complex and interconnected world.
Perhaps you can relate to some of the conversations I’ve had with people recently:
“My life feels so intense lately, like I’m putting out one fire and then another one starts up.”
“Feel like I’m riding a roller coaster all the time. Will my life ever get calm again?”
“Just when I think things are getting settled down again, something unexpected or tragic happens. I feel like I’m starting from ground zero again.”
Too often I find people taking obstacles or challenges as a “sign” that they aren’t meant to have that goal, enjoy that special relationship or experience success. The Inner Critic jumps into the picture. It tries to convince you that if progress isn’t coming to you easily, it’s because there’s something wrong with you or your dream, so you better go back to the drawing board.
In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” In each challenge lies a crucial ingredient to lasting success. Every obstacle we encounter calls forth resilience, resources and determination we may never have realized we had before.
There are 3 key principles I use and encourage my clients to apply when you’re facing a thorny challenge that will help you stay on top of that surfboard.
Key #1 – Life’s Challenges are Meant to POLISH You, Not PUNISH You
So many times I’ve seen my clients or myself get really clear on a new direction, and then immediately something unexpected happens that wants to pull you off course. Perhaps you come up with your plan to finally write that book, but then your parent ends up in a hospital and you become the primary caregiver. You get used to becoming an empty nester and then your child drops out and comes back home.
Some people interpret these unexpected curve balls that are a part of life is that you aren’t ready to pursue that next dream, or that it was the wrong new adventure to begin with. I believe, however, that life’s challenges are meant to POLISH you, not to PUNISH you. Each obstacle you encounter is a chance to practice and demonstrate how committed you are to your dreams. It’s an opportunity to see how you can expand your capacity for leadership and follow-through, even if it’s not always easy or unfolding as you had originally planned.
Key #2 – Know What You Know and Know What to “No”
When you’re dealing with a crisis, one of the most important things to do is stop, breathe and take stock of two important things. First, know what you DO know. Deep breathing helps to clear that “flight or fight” respond and helps you to access the part of your brain that governs critical thinking and judgment. What resources and experiences do you have that have developed skills you can use now? Asking great questions, being thorough, accessing your network of support around you are just some examples of things you already have at your fingertips you can use to help you navigate any chaos.
The second thing is to, as one of my mentors said, know what to “no.” When you’re dealing with a fresh challenge, it’s important to clear your emotional bandwidth so you can keep your focus and on where it needs to be. When you’re in the midst of a difficult challenge, there’s nothing more draining that dealing with managing the emotional reaction of other people to your situation at the same time. Be strategic about who you call on for support and who you don’t. Get clear on any other obligations or priorities you need to say “No” to for now, so you can hone in on what is more important for you to tackle.
Key #3 – Hold On But Don’t Get Attached
Hold on to your ideal outcome, but don’t get locked in or attached as to how and when everything will be resolved. Unexpected challenges tend to take any beautifully laid-out plans you may have and toss them into the garbage bin.
Just like the surfer riding the big wave, you need to keep you eye on the horizon and where you want to end up. But you need to stay flexible and responsive in each moment at the same time. When things feel out of control, it’s a natural response to want to impose order, schedule and certainty on how things get resolved. But that can add another layer of anxiety and prevent you from seeing your way through the obstacle course of life clearly.
Review the 3 principles and post them somewhere that you will be able to see them during the day. Take 15 minutes to journal about a recent challenge you’ve experienced, whether it’s related to your business or your personal life. What were some of the skills you used to help work through that challenge? What new insights about yourself and your ability to navigate change do you now have? How can knowing this be helpful to you in future?