When life serves up lemons, do we end up sucking them or making lemonade? I find it fascinating the variety of ways people (myself included) respond to challenges. Some people give up and succumb to problems and others rise above them. We see around us people who overcome tremendous obstacles both physical and mental. We see others who appear to be on the top of the world one minute, then carted away as suicide victims the next. Why does one keep battling and the other give up? What is the spark that motivates one person to climb out of the muck of adversity while another caves in?
A lot of it goes right back to attitude. The same situation can be viewed as an insurmountable issue or an opportunity. A chewing-out by the boss can lead to a decision to quit or to explore the grains of truth in the criticism and improve.
A sports team such as the 1980 United States Olympic hockey team may coalesce and defeat a more talented and experienced team while a team of all-stars may lose because they don’t care and have never become an integrated unit.
So how do we respond to a challenge? Let’s take the example of a bad work environment. When in this situation several times in my career, I learned to face four choices:
· Change my attitude--I could accept the situation and try to make the most of it.
· Change the situation--I could speak to my boss about what modifications would be necessary and convince him to make the improvements.
· Suffer--I could moan and groan about it.
· Get out--I could quit the job.
It’s a good test to run through the four alternatives in any challenge you encounter. When faced with a bad work situation, I try first to change it. If that doesn’t work, since I don’t want to suffer, I decide between leaving or changing my attitude.
Dealing with challenges entails hard work. We have to motivate ourselves and need the discipline to persevere. Everyone may be rooting against us so we have to dig down for the extra effort that only we can make happen.
The myth of Sisyphus comes to mind as the symbol of tenacity in a difficult situation. The guy has to push a boulder up a hill. Every time he almost gets to the top, the boulder rolls down again. He sucks it up and starts pushing again. With the four choices possible, he could just leave. But in the myth, the gods have eliminated this alternative as well as changing the situation. So his only choices are to suffer or change his attitude. Does he mope all the time or does he enjoy the scenery while he’s walking back down? And who knows. One of these times he might get the boulder to stay at the top.
Joseph in the Bible is one of my favorite stories. The kid was arrogant and had everything. Then he’s sold into slavery and gets put in prison. He hangs in there and becomes right hand to the pharaoh. Along the way he could have given up, but he didn’t. At the end he tests his brothers, but forgives them instead of being bitter and punishing them. This is the epitome of exhibiting a positive attitude when faced with adversity. He has all these adventures, responds to the situation, grows up and succeeds.
Part of maturity is learning what battles to fight, when to change the situation, when to change attitude and when to get out--knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.
And human resiliency is truly amazing. I’m still awestruck by the obstacles that people can overcome.
A haiku poem by Choshu has always been meaningful to me when thinking about challenge and response:
Broken and broken,
Again on the sea,
The moon so easily mends.