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What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger....

Tuesday, May 19th, 2015

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger....

Back in the 80’s scientists carried out an experiment with amoebae. In one tank, the amoebae were given ultimate comfort - the temperature, water levels, humidity were all set at the ideal level. In another tank, the amoebae were subjected to a series of shocks - rapid changes in water level, temperature, and protein – conditions that were almost life threatening. To the astonishment of the researchers, the amoebae in the difficult situation grew faster and stronger than the ones in the comfortable surroundings. The conclusion was that having things too perfect and comfortable can cause things to decline, whereas challenges and adversity help things develop to be stronger.

In the last 6 months, I’ve had business contacts and coaching clients go through all sorts of challenges – company issues such as legal challenges, financial irregularities, major fraud… individual business issues like redundancy, or being affected by corporate change… as well as personal issues like divorce, redundancy, major illness, and death of loved ones.

In coaching individuals I’ve observed people go through these huge challenges and come out the other side. The common story is that eventually they come out stronger. It may take a while, but they always emerge.

Here are some of the common things they’ve said…

You find out who your real friends are – these may be different from the ones who hung around when you were riding high. Unexpected people may come forward and be kind in a way which challenges their pre-conceptions. Very often people emerge from this kind of challenge understanding and valuing how interdependent they are. They have lost some of the brittle feeling of  ‘I need to do this on my own’

You can be surprised by your own resilience. People say ‘If I can get through what I’ve just experienced, then nothing much will phase me’. The fear of the bad stuff is almost always worse than the bad stuff itself. Once you’ve been to the brink then the demons don’t have so much power. People come out of this with more courage to stand up for what they believe in… which leads onto the next point…

You gain a heart-felt sense of what matters to you. For some it is their family, their health, their ethics, their relationship with God. People often make big decisions for change as a result of personal crisis. Trees that grow in exposed places and are subject to high wind and storms put down much deeper roots than those that grow in a more favourable climate.

You remember that your colleagues and staff are human beings. In our quest for results, process and action, it is all too easy to forget that people have feelings, families, hopes, fears, disappointments, desires, just like us. People emerge from these life changing challenges more able to listen and understand and be compassionate. 

You innovate and adapt. Adversity is after all the very thing that drives evolution. Severe challenge often gives us the kick start we need to think in a new way. 

You become a more well-rounded person – Crisis can soften people and knock the rough edges off them. They become at the same time braver and more engaged and creative, and at the same time more compassionate, more flexible, perhaps even more humble. 

So what do you do with this new wisdom? There is often a natural tendency to withdraw from the situation that has given the pain. So if the pain has come from a high powered position, or from work in general, then it is understandable the person may want to leave work, or take a more junior role. The real challenge is to take your new learning and re-engage, incorporating what you have discovered about yourself and other people. …and to explore if it is possible to be in a position of power and retain the healthy vulnerability, insight and purpose you have gained from your personal crisis. If you can do that then you can become a better leader, as well as a better parent, sibling, and friend.

So if like a small amoeba you feel that life is sending you negative conditions, then perhaps you can focus on the resilience and strength you are building. Think of yourself not as a victim, but as a survivor. And when you come out the other side, you will have a great deal more to give to the people and whatever venture (or family!) you engage with.

Tags in this article: solutions selling, Solution Selling

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