My Advice to Graduates: Don't Waste A Crisis
A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. This final installment in the Advice to Graduates series addresses the subject of crisis: what it is, and how to handle it, when (not if) it comes.
What is a crisis?
Here are some concepts around the word “crisis” to consider:
· The word crisis is derived from the Greek word krisis, which means “to decide.” A crisis is a situation that compels us to decide.
· Medically speaking, a crisis is a point where a decisive change occurs in a disease, leading to either recovery or death.
· In Chinese, crisis is called Wéijī with these two Mandarin characters: 危機. The first character connotes “danger,” and the second connotes “opportunity.”
Together, these definitions reveal the nature of crisis. When a personal crisis comes, it is a “make or break” situation; it either kills or strengthens. A crisis is a brutal, unannounced audit of our resilience; it tests how much we can bend without breaking and how well we recover. A crisis is typically viewed as a nightmare, but it can also be the starting point of a dream. A crisis is another fear that can be overcome.
Crises are a fundamental part of human existence.
My all-time favorite movie quote on crisis comes from Sylvester Stallone’s character, Rocky Balboa, where he told his son:
Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place, and I don't care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain't about how hard ya hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done! Now, if you know what you're worth, then go out and get what you're worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain't where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain't you! You're better than that!
It’s hard to add anything more to that. Crisis will come. It is like a disease. It is not a matter of if we will get one, but of when and what variety or deadliness. The nature of it could be anything from financial to marital, career, health, legal, and so on. Sometimes one crisis attracts another, and then another, until they overwhelm even the most resilient amongst us. The example that usually comes to mind is biblical Job. When it rained on him, it poured. He lost not only his money but also his health and his family. Job may be an extreme example, but if you live long enough, you will sooner or later face a condition that tests you to the core. How you handle your crisis is the real game changer.
Accepting that crises are natural just as diseases are natural is key to dealing well with these curveballs that life throws. No one wants a crisis, but knowing that they will inevitably come helps us react positively during trying times. A crisis is a situation that forces us to choose a path, and everything rides on what we decide. Seeing crisis as an inherent, inescapable part of being human, as part of living, gives us the equanimity needed to make tide-turning decisions.
Crisis is an opportunity for dramatic, positive change.
It is a law of nature that, unless acted on by an external force, an object remains in its state of rest or uniform motion. We are wired to live life on autopilot because that is a state where the brain consumes the least amount of energy. This is why we are creatures of habit. Once an activity becomes a ritual, it takes less physical and mental energy to do it. In the case of healthy habits, this dynamic is a good thing. However, the problem is that we are often blinded to our own failings and our own not-so-good habits.
Advice to graduates and anyone beginning anew:
“A crisis is life telling you that all is not well, and you need to change or you will be sidelined.”
-Michael Taiwo, author of DREAM
Once a bad behavior becomes entrenched, our willpower—an internal force—is powerless to effect change. It usually takes a crisis—an external force—to course correct. A wise man observed, “Before I was afflicted, I went astray.” In other words, it was his affliction that brought him back in line. My advice here is obvious: Don’t waste a crisis. Deal with your crisis in a way that makes it work for you. Use it to change unhelpful traits. Use it to fix personal flaws. Use it to seek help. A crisis is life telling you that all is not well, and you need to change or you will be sidelined.
Crisis is an opportunity to create new relationships.
It is commonly accepted that “you know your friends” during a crisis. This is true. Difficult times help us clarify who is for or against our best interests. Any relationship that sustains us during a crisis situation is a relationship worth pursuing. Any relationship that either got us into this mess or isn’t helping us get out is one worth ending. A crisis is our chance to delete deleterious influences in our lives. For the dramatic, positive change you made above to stick, bad relationships must end so you won’t have to say, like Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) did in The Godfather, “Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in!”
A crisis is a terrible thing to waste because a crisis is a chance to be re-born, and recreating ourselves is our birthright. A crisis forces us to create a new life, one that responds to our deepest needs. Crisis is our way of evolving when we lack the courage to do so on our own volition. Going through a crisis may feel like a bad thing, but in actuality it is a good thing because, like I said in this post, “…to be great and excellent, don’t start from good and average; start from bad and poor.”
This post focuses more on personal crisis, but sometimes a team or an organization may be in crisis. The following books provide leaders with advice on how to deal with crisis situations in the workplace :
- Winning by Jack Welch (especially Chapter 10, “Crisis Management”)
- Managing the Unexpected by Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe (The preface and Chapter 1 are a good introduction that can be applied generally; the rest of the book is more specific to “high reliability” industries.)
For more reading on personal crisis, I recommend:
3. Welcome to Your Crisis by Laura Day (The whole book is an easy read.)