The Silver Lining of a Struggle

I’m not a runner, but I ran six half-marathons once.

Growing up in New England, it was always a dream to one day run the Boston Marathon but training for and running six half-marathons was all I needed to realize how difficult that would be.

I learned that running is hard and running long distances is even harder.

Although I only conquered the 13.1-mile race, I learn a lot about myself and what I could do if I just didn’t quit.

The truth is, long-distance running is not about bragging rights, personal records, t-shirts, or race medals. It’s about challenging yourself to do something difficult.

Most people only see what happens on race day – they don’t witness the months of training and the hours spent grinding out the miles day after day.

There is excitement the day you sign up for a race and the day you finish a race.

But the real work, the real struggle, and the real learning are all done in the middle.

The real work, the real struggle, and the real learning are all done in the middle. Click To Tweet

In Donald Miller’s book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, he talks about the importance of the struggle:

“The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. The point of the story is never about the ending, remember. It’s about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle.”

As Miller suggests, the hard work in the middle of any difficult challenge is more important than the ending.

The middle of any difficult challenge is more important than the ending. Click To Tweet

Why – you ask? Because…

The struggle builds character. An easy life is one that doesn’t change you. Challenge brings about change. The struggle requires determination, courage, intensity, and perseverance. Some days it takes everything to keep going especially when the end seems nowhere in sight.

The struggle builds relationships. Persevering through a difficult challenge with a team or another person builds strong bonds that last a lifetime. When you suffer and struggle together, you build a defining moment in your relationship. You build mutual respect.

The struggle builds the story. Every great story has a hero’s journey. The main character must struggle and overcome a major obstacle or challenge. As an audience, we become endeared to the hero as they endure hardships and trials. This is the same with people and organizations. We are attracted to those who have faced trials and have overcome them.

As we find ourselves in the middle of this COVID struggle with seemingly no end in sight, we need to realize that we’re in a good place.

Just like being on the ninth mile of a half marathon on a bridge in the cold, windy, pouring rain – this is when we find out who we really are. If we just don’t quit, we’ll learn we can do amazing things.

So, if you’re going through hell right now, don’t stop. Keep going!

Remember these words from Theodore Roosevelt:

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

So, stay strong and stay in the fight.

Deep Leadership Podcast

If you want to gain some insights on how to power through this crisis, listen in on my joint podcast with fellow podcaster, Jason Oates.

The Perfect Pandemic Pivot

I have given several webinars over the past few weeks on leading during a crisis and one of the topics I like to discuss is making a pivot. Once you understand how this pandemic affects your team, your organization, and your industry, you need to chart a new course.

But – and this is really important – you need to stay true to your mission.

If you pivot, you need to stay true to your mission. Click To Tweet

Let me give you an example.

You’ve probably heard of the company, Life is Good.

It’s a lifestyle brand founded in 1994 and is best known for optimistic T-shirts and hats, many of which feature a smiling stick figure named Jake.

It’s probably not surprising to learn their mission is to “spread the power of optimism.”

I’ve watched them make a pivot during this COVID crisis and you can see it too. On the front page of their website, every T-shirt is related to the global pandemic but in a hopeful, optimistic, and positive approach.

For example, you can get a shirt with golden retrievers on a Zoom call or Sasquatch as the social distance world champion.

They call these shirts, “lighthearted tees for uncertain times,” and they are consistent with their mission to spread the power of optimism even in a global pandemic.

You might be thinking, that’s great Jon but I don’t own an optimistic T-shirt company, how can I make a pivot?

Good question!

I recently had Philip Freeman as a guest on my podcast. He is the founder of Murphy’s Naturals, a company that manufactures natural products for outdoor living – think bug repellent. I wanted to have him on the podcast because of the pivot he made in his business.

And…how it was entirely consistent with his mission statement.

Murphy’s Naturals’ mission is to celebrate nature and inspire good through quality natural products. They believe in “doing others good.”

During this pandemic, Philip quickly realized the world desperately needed hand sanitizer and he had the assets and people who could produce this essential product.

So, he and his company made a pivot and began to manufacture hand sanitizer.

But not just for any customer either. Philip’s company ended up becoming a supplier to the U.S. Navy who desperately needed this essential product.

And true to the company’s mission, Murphy’s Naturals’ hand sanitizer is 99.99% natural.

Inspiring good through quality natural products is not just a mission statement in a dusty binder on a shelf for Murphy’s Naturals, it’s something that is lived every day, even in a global pandemic.

A mission statement is something that is lived every day, even in a global pandemic. Click To Tweet

So, what about your organization? What pivot are you considering or have you done already?

More importantly – is it consistent with your mission?

Pivoting in a crisis is important but pivoting with a purpose is absolutely critical to maintaining your company’s authenticity.

The Power of Passion and Perseverance

As we enter our 5th week in quarantine, I’m reminded of the famous motivational posters produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for World War II. The words were simple but the message was powerful:

“Keep Calm and Carry On.”

It’s a great message for all of us today.

The COVID crisis is clearly testing our resolve.

One thing I have noticed though…some people are handling it better than others.

And it got me thinking.

Why do some people thrive while others falter in tough times?

What is it that allows certain individuals to endure the toughest challenges without wavering?

Psychologist Angela Duckworth set out to understand this. She studied cadets at West Point. She wanted to be able to pinpoint the one thing that predicted whether or not a cadet would make it through “Beast Barracks,” the grueling seven-week initiation program.

What she discovered was groundbreaking.

She learned that endurance wasn’t predicted by SAT scores, GPA, athletics, race, gender, or social status. The most important trait for success in difficult times was “grit.”

The most important trait for success in difficult times is grit. Click To Tweet

Duckworth defines grit as “passion and sustained persistence applied toward long-term achievement.” It’s about having such a strong passion for your goals that you are willing to withstand any hardship to achieve them.

Someone who exemplifies grit in action is Gretchen Smith. Gretchen is the founder and leader of Code of Vets. Code of Vets is a charity that helps military veterans in crisis.

Gretchen’s passion for veterans and her dogged persistence to overcome countless challenges has led to one of the most powerful grass-roots organizations in the country. She has an army of volunteers who will drop everything to come to the rescue of veterans in need. In her first year in operation, she raised more than $800,000 of which 99% of the donations went directly to veterans.

She is a powerful force for good who leads with passion and persistence. Listen to my interview with her on the latest episode of the Deep Leadership Podcast.

Grit is about having such a strong passion for your goals that you are willing to withstand any hardship to achieve them. Click To Tweet

To support her efforts, especially during this COVID crisis, I recently announced that 100% of the proceeds of the sale of my book, I Have the Watch, will go directly to Code of Vets from April 20-26, 2020.

We did this last year and raised more than $1,000 for this important charity.

So, buy a book and help a Vet! Go to IHAVETHEWATCH.COM to order.

Please share this with all the leaders and future leaders in your circle of influence so we help military veterans during this crisis.

 

(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Abe McNatt)