What growing up in the 80s taught me about living in uncertain times

6 Principles to Help Us Find Solid Ground in Uncertainty

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It was 1984. I was in Grade 10. And the world was coming to an end.

My social studies teacher was impassioned about the state of the world and was intent on her wide-eyed, previously innocent students understanding the urgency.

For context:

  • George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm were on the reading list;
  • The Day After had just been released and we were all talking about what would happen if there was a nuclear war;
  • Bob Geldof and Midge Ure wrote and produced the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas” to support the devastating famine in Ethiopia;
  • AIDS was at its most feared;
  • and it was the 80s.

Growing up in the 80s wasn’t all Footloose and Madonna, fluorescent aerobic suits and sweatbands – there was also a worldwide economic depression.

The price of oil was so unaffordable for our family that I remember curling up around a space heater in my house to keep warm. Many of my friends, after graduating from high school, went on to get multiple post-secondary education credentials. One university degree wasn’t enough to get you a decent job. The government didn’t make you pay back your student loan if you were still in school, so you might as well keep going. There was so much competition out there you had to be extremely creative and perseverant to get a summer job or full-time work after graduation.

And yet, what do I remember?

I remember the fun times.

I still take great pride in the unusual summer jobs I had because I was open to trying anything and desperate to make money so I could afford to purchase the brand names of the time: Nike tennis shoes, Adidas shorts, Jordache jeans or maybe even an Izod Lacoste polo shirt (yes, I longed to be a “preppy”!).

Of course, I remember the incredible music from the likes of Prince, Madonna, Tears for Fears, David Bowie, Bronski Beat, and Pet Shop Boys to name a few. And the movies! Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, Star Wars and anything by John Hughes (The Breakfast Club), of course.

(For more on how that time prepared us for our self-isolation lifestyles, check out this recent article that will have you back in your mixed-tape creating weekends in no time.)

I’m finding the times we are in now curiously reminiscent of challenges from my childhood. The endless hours of having to entertain ourselves. The confusion of not knowing what to believe or what to hope for. The uncertain world filled with famine, disease and potential destruction. A curious inability to plan. As teens, we could be hopeful, but we didn’t know enough about what grounded us to be able to plan for anything. All we had was hope.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”As a teen growing up in the 80s, all we had was hope. Just like today. Hope is the grounding principle that will get us through this.” quote=”As a teen growing up in the 80s, all we had was hope. Just like today. Hope is the grounding principle that will get us through this.”]

When I woke up this morning, on Day #14 of self-isolation in these unknown times, I was determined to find some solid ground to keep me holding onto something real, as I lead my family, my business and my community through these uncharted waters.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”I am determined to find some solid ground to keep me holding onto something real, as I lead my family, my business and my community through these uncharted waters.” quote=”I am determined to find some solid ground to keep me holding onto something real, as I lead my family, my business and my community through these uncharted waters.”]

I have spent the last two weeks in disbelief, waking up each day like I’m in a bad dream, looking for silver linings and things to be grateful for each and every day. But the reality is, I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under me – from under all of us – and I need to put it back. I need to put something back, some kind of rug, something to stand on that I know.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”I need to put something back, some kind of rug, something to stand on that I know.” quote=”I need to put something back, some kind of rug, something to stand on that I know.”]

Here are six principles that pulled us through the ’80s that can also help us find solid ground today. 

1. Hope

In the 80s, as we were inundated with the terror of famine in Africa, a misunderstood virus called AIDS, the threat of nuclear war and the dystopian Orwellian futures of 1984, what got us through those times?

For me, it was hope.

Hope was a desire to believe it could be different. That we could figure it out. That there was more to know and a new way forward that wasn’t yet clear.

I was hopeful the world would figure itself out, just as I would eventually figure out my path forward as a teenager. For these times, I am hopeful that we will get through this and we will all find our solid footing again.

The path forward is not yet clear, but it will come in time.

2. Trust

As I look back on my 80s upbringing, I realize that I always trusted. I trusted that my parents were doing the best they could. I trusted in my extended family who was there for me. I trusted in what I knew to be true – the path I walked to school – that hard work and perseverance would pay off eventually – that I could design a bright future for myself.

Trust is stronger than hope in that it’s something you can rely on completely.

You can trust in a person, a situation or yourself. Hope is more of an expectation or a wish for something to happen. What or who do you know that you can trust in? Those beliefs and relationships are some elements of the solid footing you can find right now in this moment.

3. Family

Through all this, no matter what, we have each other. This is the case for my family of four as our forced family time has no foreseeable end. And isn’t that quite possibly the biggest silver lining of it all?

Yes, all this time under one roof will highlight what’s not going right, just as we take for granted what is going well. It will likely force us to fix what’s not going right to emerge into something better.

When all else fails, what is most important to you?

It is likely the most important relationships in your world, the family you were born into or the family you have created. It’s your people who you have come to count on who are there for you through thick and thin. These relationships form some of your solid footings.

4. Perseverance

Perseverance is a value and a muscle to be exercised. I have always valued perseverance and I know that more clearly now than ever as I look back at what got me through my teenage years and early successes in career, health, and happiness.

Perseverance is never giving up. It’s ongoing and striving towards a goal. It’s continually working toward what you want to have happen. It’s waking up each day – maybe checking those global COVID-19 numbers – or maybe not, and working toward stopping the spread of the virus and flattening that curve.

Staying safe and healthy during this time is our number one job. It will take perseverance.

Perseverance is solid footing we can all stand on.

5. Resilience

This value is not something I thought a lot about until the renowned Brené Brown came into my worldview. Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties or toughness.

If you have ever made it through a tough time of any kind, then you have an idea of how resilient you are.

In Rising Strong, Brown shares that she believes the most resilient leaders value relationships, have a high understanding of themselves and are able to lead through discomfort and vulnerability. There’s that vulnerability word again – and when have we, as a world, ever been more vulnerable?

We don’t know what’s going to happen next. But if we can stand on the knowledge that we are resilient, then that’s something to rely on. And frankly, something we may need to rely on day after day, one step at a time, for a long time to come.

Resilience is a muscle we can call on to help us get through this.

6. Grace

Grace is not a value I would have knowingly exercised as a teenager. The stuff of biblical teachings and Christian theology, it’s “the love and mercy given to us by God even if we haven’t done anything to earn it.” And it’s something we can give each other, to the leaders of our day, and to ourselves.

None of us have ever been through a global pandemic before. We are all doing the best we know how. The ability to extend grace to others and to ourselves during this time will pull us through.

Grace is the greatest gift we can give each other now.

What do you still know in these times? What is still solid and true? What are the foundational pieces you can trust to stand on during these times, now more than ever? I invite you to name those for yourself so you can find some solid footing to keep you strong.

To your success, in business, in your career, and in life,

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