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A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste

| March 30, 2020
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This is a quote by Paul Romer, co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2018. In other words, you can either go through it or grow through it.

If you have never heard the story of Admiral Jim Stockdale, it needs to be at the top of your quarantine pastime list. This Medal of Honor recipient was one of eleven prisoners of war in Hanoi, North Vietnam from 1967 to 1974. He was brutally tortured more than twenty times at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.”

In 2001 Jim Collins released the book Good to Great. In it he wrote about his conversation with Admiral Stockdale and how he endured this treacherous time. He stated,

I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.

Collins went on to ask who didn’t make it out of Vietnam. Stockdale replied,

Oh, that's easy, the optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, 'We're going to be out by Christmas.' And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they'd say, 'We're going to be out by Easter.' And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.

He went on to say,

This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.

It could be said that this “Stockdale Paradox” is what we’re facing today. And we will prevail in the end. After all, we are hard-headed, God-fearing Americans. At the same time, we’re faced with two brutal facts: we’re in a pandemic and we were not prepared for it. Which leaves us with two options - go through it or grow through it.

Here are your new priorities:

#1…Plant seeds daily…It’s easy to fall into a state of negativity with what we’re facing. The media, Congress, and the ever-changing information are just a few of the catalysts. It’s more important now than ever to mentally prepare for each day.

  • How do you start your day? Is it with prayer, a devotion, meditation or exercise? Start new habits to get yourself switched on for the day.
  • Consider journaling. Stories and pictures are the two things that outlive us and can be a light in dark times for future generations. Writing also provides an opportunity for you to clarify your thoughts, learn about yourself, and set aside the things holding you back from being the best version of yourself that you can be.
  • An attitude of gratitude is your strongest armor. What are you grateful for? Share it with your family and ask them to do the same.
  • Make someone else’s day. Call a loved one you haven’t had time to talk to. Write a love letter or thank you note. How can you surprise your spouse/friends/children to make them smile? Ask your church if you can help make calls to its members.
  • End your day just as you started—with peace. Put down the device and don’t turn on the TV. Watch the sunset. Read a good book. Collect your thoughts—write down your greatest accomplishment of the day and what you will do tomorrow to make it even better.

#2…Don’t let a flood drown your crop…You can have a flood of pessimism or a flood of optimism as the Stock Paradox teaches us. Both can drown you—your future, your business, your retirement, your legacy…you name it. You need a healthy dose of realism. What needs to be done? What contingency planning needs to be done? Perhaps you’re too close the situation to see it. We are all at least a little emotional when it comes to our own life. Even when its business, it’s still personal.

#1…Nothing can grow without a little sun… Too often we hold onto our beliefs to the bitter end, even if they aren’t good for us. If you’re going to grow through this, chances are you might need a new way to think. Dan Sullivan wrote a brilliant (no pun intended) piece called “Scary Times” Success Manual. Here are just a few ways you might need to change your thinking which he addressed:

  • Forget about your losses; focus on your opportunities
  • Forget about your difficulties; focus on your progress
  • Forget about the future; focus on today
  • Forget about your commodity; focus on creating value
  • Forget about what’s missing; focus on what’s available

You will find the full version of this powerful manual here. One of the most influential journalists of our time, Susan Taylor, said: “Thoughts have power; thoughts are energy. And you can make your world or break it by your own thinking.”

This week I had a friend say to me that he didn’t want to look back at this time and regret anything. I am pretty sure he would agree that A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. What do you think?

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