Shake It Off and Take a Step Up
We must be mindful of our judgments at all times. This entails having a “philosophical attitude” toward life and acceptance of things that happen as necessary and inevitable. We do not control things outside of our sphere of influence, but we can navigate our responses and attitudes towards such events. To achieve this discipline requires taking personal responsibility, offering no excuses for inaction, and never “passing the buck.”
Nobody ever made a movie about the person who quit. As reflected in the “Hero’s Journey,” we are hardwired to admire those that overcome obstacles despite having all the odds against them. Rather than bemoaning a task or job you are given, you can turn a bit part into a starring role. The road to success begins with acceptance and understanding coupled with an intense desire to excel at whatever task we are assigned.
Great leaders find a way to transform weaknesses into strengths. They take what potentially could hold them back and use it to move forward. They turn adversity into advantage. Marcus Aurelius had something to say about this in his Meditations, all those thousands of years ago. “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” The concept of cultivating coherence is predominant in Stoicism and is extremely useful in the hectic, pressure cooker that is the business environment. To make clear and rational decisions, we must focus on that which is in our control.
“If we judge as good and evil only the things in the power of our own choice, then there is no room left for blaming gods or being hostile to others.”—Marcus Aurelius
John Leach, a military survival instructor, studies who lives and dies in catastrophic situations. Due to our internal “freeze” response that we covered earlier in this book, we know 75% of people become incapable of any action. They are unable to think, and become unable to plot their escape. 10% of people freak out and become dangerous to everyone else, hindering all of their survival chances. Stories about survival often focus on the 15%, and how their approach keeps them alive. When someone is in a new, unfamiliar environment, particularly a stressful one such as a sinking ship or a burning aircraft, establishing survival goals – where the exit is and how to get to it – requires a lot more conscious effort.
“Every time I go on a boat the first thing I do is find out where my lifeboat station is, because then if there is a problem I just have to respond, I don’t have to start thinking about it,” says Leach. Typically, survivors survive not because they are braver or more heroic than anyone else, but because they are better prepared.
One day a farmer's donkey fell into a well. The farmer frantically thought what to do as the stricken animal cried out to be rescued. With no obvious solution, the farmer regretfully concluded that as the donkey was old, and as the well needed to be filled in anyway, he should give up the idea of rescuing the beast, and simply fill in the well. Hopefully the poor animal would not suffer too much, he tried to persuade himself.
The farmer asked his neighbors help, and before long they all began to shovel earth quickly into the well. When the donkey realized what was happening he wailed and struggled, but then, to everyone's relief, the noise stopped.
After a while the farmer looked down into the well and was astonished by what he saw. The donkey was still alive, and progressing towards the top of the well. The donkey had discovered that by shaking off the dirt instead of letting it cover him, he could keep stepping on top of the earth as the level rose. Soon the donkey was able to step up over the edge of the well, and he happily trotted off.
Life tends to shovel dirt on top of each of us from time to time. The trick is to shake it off and take a step up.
The chances are you will never find yourself in a disaster situation, but it’s a good idea to imagine that you will. Only then can you deal with external threats and prepare for them, without sliding into irrationality. Although you may not have caused the dangerous situation, it is still within your control to act. “All you have to do is ask yourself one simple question,” says Leach. “If something happens, what is my first response? Once you can answer that, everything else will fall into place. It’s that simple.” The Disciplines of Perception, Action, and Will not only make you a better leader, but it may not only save your life, but also other’s lives when everything is on the line.
BBC – Future – How to survive a disaster, http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150128-how-to-survive-a-disaster