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.

Leading in Difficult Times

I was talking to a friend the other day and we were reminiscing about a business we worked at that went through a really rough period. Market demand had dropped, orders were down, margins were being squeezed, and we had a new business system that limited our view of the situation.

He mentioned something that really struck me.

He said, “I’m glad we went through that time because it made me a much better leader.

He’s right.

Leading during difficult times takes everything you have but the truth is, you will be better off because of the experience.

Having led both military and business organizations through some pretty difficult periods, I’m convinced that tough times make you a better leader.

Tough times make you a better leader Click To Tweet

Let me suggest five reasons why:

Tough times require you to operate at your highest level. When the seas are calm and the weather is nice, you don’t have to be at the top of your game. But tough times require an intense, 24/7 focus on the problem. As a leader, everyone in the organization is watching you and depending on you to make the right decisions to lead them out of the situation. It requires focus, determination, decisiveness, courage, intensity, and perseverance. It will take your absolute best.

You learn a lot about yourself during tough times. The challenge of leading during difficult times is learning to deal with those voices of self-doubt, fear, and worry while your team is depending on you for confidence and strength. Tough times are the ultimate test of a leader’s character and resolve. There is nothing that will boost confidence more than facing the toughest challenge in your career and coming out on top.

Tough times are the ultimate test of a leader’s character and resolve. Click To Tweet

You build strong bonds with your team during tough times. When you stand shoulder to shoulder with your team through a crisis, you build a bond that can last a lifetime. When a leader and a team step up and work together through a tough situation, it builds a powerful new level of trust and respect. The overall capability of the organization is forever enhanced through this experience.

Tough times give you a new perspective. Your perspective forever changes from having withstood a difficult period. You have a much greater appreciation for when times are good. You also are less likely to let people, politics, and minor issues get you down. Tough times help build your maturity as a leader.

Your perspective forever changes from having withstood a difficult period. Click To Tweet

Tough times become an anchor point for the rest of your career. Great leaders can almost always point to a time in their careers when they became great. In most cases, it was leading an organization through a tough situation. The most difficult situation you face may actually be the defining moment in your career.

Most of us don’t want to go through difficult times. It’s human nature to want things to be easy. The problem is when things are easy and you aren’t challenged, you don’t grow. 

Confidence and maturity as a leader come from dealing with your self-doubt and fears while overcoming adversity.

So, instead of complaining or worrying about the current COVID-19 pandemic, why not try to celebrate these tough days?

Yes, the times are hard. But this may be the best thing that ever happened to you as a leader!

I’ve been covering the issue of leading in a crisis daily on my Twitter account, so make sure to follow me and add your thoughts to this conversation.

Deep Leadership Podcast

Also, listen to my interview with Monty Granger on my podcast. Monty is a retired Army Major who was called into action to set up the Army medical facilities at Guantanamo Bay right after 9/11. He knows what it means to lead through a crisis.




(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan Clay)