Right now, things seem pretty scary and uncertain to me and so many of us given everything that is going on with the coronavirus. In times of fear, when I’m not exactly sure what to do, or when I find myself worrying about how I or we are going to make our way through a major challenge like this, it can be helpful to think back to previous difficulties we’ve overcome to remind ourselves of our strength.
In the past few days and weeks as things in the country and the world have changed dramatically, I’ve found myself thinking back to a time in my life nine years ago when things were very difficult for me personally. At that moment, my mom had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and the reality that she was probably going to die was setting in, even though I was having a hard time coming to terms with it. In addition, we were trying to dig ourselves out of a deep hole of debt we’d gotten ourselves into and were in the process of doing a short sale on our house. Although I’d been convinced this was the right thing to do, I was feeling a lot of fear and shame about it.
I had a conversation with my good friend Theo at the time which had a profound impact on me. I said to him, “I don’t know if I can handle all of this. I can’t believe my mom is so sick. I feel powerless – like there’s nothing I can do. And, with our house, I’m so embarrassed that we put ourselves into this situation. How could I have allowed this to happen? I feel like such an idiot!”
Theo listened with empathy and understanding. Then he said, “First of all, Mike, I’m really sorry about your mom. I know how much you love her and how hard this must be.” Then he said, “Second of all, about your house and financial situation, stop being so hard on yourself. Yes, you’ve made some mistakes, but you’re learning from them and you’re clearly not an idiot. Third of all, even with the mistakes you’ve made, a lot of people are in your same situation. It’s not your fault that the economy crashed and the housing market imploded.” Then he said something I’ve never forgotten, “Mike, even though it may not seem like it to you right now, it’s really important to remember that you have more than this requires.”
This simple, yet powerful statement that Theo made had me stop in my tracks. It allowed me think about and take inventory of some of the adversity I’d overcome in my life. And in so doing, I was reminded of my resilience. As I talked about on a recent podcast episode, we’re all incredibly resilient, even though we forgot this sometimes.
It’s easy to get caught up in the doom and gloom of this moment. The coronavirus is real, people are getting sick, people are dying, the stock market and economy seem to be in trouble, and anyone who tells you that they know how this will all play out is either crazy or lying.
Without minimizing the severity of what’s happening or the potential impact it might have on us – personally, collectively, physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, professionally, societally and more – it’s important for each of us and all of us to remember how strong we are, all that we have endured, accomplished, and overcome in our lives, and that no matter what our brain might tell us when we get down, we have way more than is required to meet this moment and to navigate these challenges successfully.
Nine years ago, when Theo reminded me about my own strength it had a profound impact on me. It didn’t change the circumstances – my mom was still sick, and she eventually passed away a few months later which was incredibly sad and painful. We did the short sale on our house later that year which was hard, scary, and embarrassing. And, as I reflect back on those challenging experiences, I am, once again, reminded of my own capacity and the universal power of the human spirit. We’re often much stronger and more resilient than we think.
Remembering this important truth right now, will help us make our way through this challenging experience, while also encouraging and inspiring those around us in the process. Here are a few specific things you can do and think about in this regard:
1. Be real about how you feel – It’s important for us to check in with ourselves and be emotionally honest. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably on a bit of an emotional roller coaster these days. That’s okay. There’s no right way to feel. Whatever emotional experience you’re having in this moment is completely appropriate and will probably change. As I wrote about in a recent blog post, it’s usually our denial of certain feelings that is way more problematic than when we actually give ourselves permission to feel those emotions authentically.
2. Reach out for support – Even though most of us are isolated right now – working from home if we can, not going out, and staying away from friends, extended family, co-workers, and social environments – we all have people who love and care about us. Feeling lonely doesn’t mean that we’re alone. And, if we reach out to others and ask for support, we not only might get the help and connection we’re looking for, we give other people the opportunity to do something that most people love – contribute to the people around them. As the saying goes, “The answer is always ‘no’ if you don’t ask.”
3. Take inventory of how resilient you are – As I mentioned above, one of the things we can do to remind ourselves of how strong we are, is to think back on times in our lives when we overcame specific challenges. A great exercise you can do in your journal or in a conversation with a trusted person in your life, is to reflect specifically on some of the most difficult things you’ve experienced, how you navigated them, what you learned in the process, and how they made you stronger. Doing this can actually help and inspire you as you face the challenge of this moment.
4. Check in with other people – As important as it is for us to check in with how we’re actually feeling and be real about it, as well as to reach out for the support we need, if we’re doing that consistently and authentically, another essential thing for us to do is to check in with those around us. Reaching out, listening, offering support, and being there for the people we live with, work with, and those who are most important in our life, is beneficial to them and to us. We can offer some real help if and when it’s requested, which can be incredibly supportive and generous. And, being of service to others can help us not waste time and energy obsessing about our own fears, doubts, and worries.
5. Focus on what you’re grateful for – I remember hearing something many years ago that has stuck with me,” Gratitude and victimhood can’t co-exist.” This is so true. Even in the midst of challenge, difficulty, and uncertainty, there is so much for us to be grateful for. Think of how fortunate you are. If you’re reading this right now on a phone, tablet, or computer, there are probably so many blessings in your life. Being grateful doesn’t mean that everything is great, nothing bad can happen, or that life is perfect; far from it. Authentic gratitude is about consciously choosing to put our attention on what we appreciate and being thankful in a pro-active way. Now more than ever, the power of gratitude is essential.
This time isn’t all that fun or easy for me and most people I know, am hearing from, and reading about. It’s quite possible and even probable that things are going to get worse collectively before they get better. I find this reality scary and upsetting on so many levels. And, if we can remember how strong we are – individually and collectively – and we take faith in the fact that not only do we have more than this requires, but that we’re all in this together, we can dig deep and make our way through it…knowing that we’ll be even stronger on the other side.
Feel free to share any thoughts, ideas, questions, or suggestions in the comments below or directly on my blog.
Mike Robbins is the author of five books including his latest, We’re All in This Together. He is an expert in teamwork, leadership, and emotional intelligence, Mike delivers keynotes and seminars around the world that empower people, leaders, and teams to engage in their work, collaborate, and perform at their best. His clients include Google, Wells Fargo, Microsoft, Schwab, eBay, Genentech, the Oakland A’s, and many others.