As I walked in I could hear the sound of water dripping. I turned my head to see paint bulging from the walls. Plaster in areas was falling from the ceiling.
We had just returned home from our trip to celebrate the holidays with my extended family. As my husband and I walked from floor to floor, we quickly surmised that the Midwest’s “blizzard of 2022” and the cold temperatures it brought with it had caused a pipe to burst. The pipe had leaked for days starting on the top floor.
At that moment, all I could see before me was the extensive damage. Having recently renovated the house, I was well aware of the time and energy it would take to put it back together again. My enthusiasm to prepare for my next trip and the new year quickly waned.
Isn’t that the way? You’re motivated by your proclamations and plans for the year ahead, then the unexpected comes out of nowhere, and it quickly fizzles.
I don’t share this story to garner sympathy or be a victim. Twenty-five years ago that would definitely have been the case.
Today, the wiser, often calmer, and more poised me is sharing what I’ve learned because I want you to have a way to thrive in case unexpected problems have already surfaced on your path to greatness this year.
You know what I’m talking about. We catch the latest Covid variant, our best worker suddenly quits, someone complains about us to our boss, our computer breaks, our business system can’t handle the load we’re putting on it, the stock market drops again or our company announces lay-offs.
It would be good to have a way — an approach or formula — to act on the obstacles that life throws at us, wouldn’t it?
I found a way years ago to steady myself during these times of difficulty, which are a part of daily life.
The secret I learned is to turn every obstacle into an opportunity. To use it as fuel. In other words, to find the ‘backdoor benefit.’
I’m not saying to pretend it isn’t happening or say “this isn’t so bad.” I‘d never ask you to put lipstick on a pig. I am simply suggesting that you ask instead: “How can I make this good?”
Years ago, you would have heard about my chaos immediately. I’d have been consumed, telling anyone who would listen, spending days feeling like a victim, expending energy fighting something I couldn’t change.
Today, I pause, take a deep breath and get clear on the perspective I’m going to choose: “What’s the benefit of this?” I know I will find the opportunity if I keep calm, collected, and patient. I know that it’s only when I employ these three characteristics that I can deploy the other skills I need to overcome the challenge.
My husband might have thought I got to this point too quickly that day as we surveyed the blow. But as I write this on my birthday, another year older and hopefully at least a tad bit wiser — I am ever so aware that my time and energy are both limited but decreasing. I want to focus both of those resources on things I can control rather than suffer failed attempts to control those I cannot.
I’d be lying if I said my office and other rooms being taken down to the studs wasn’t disheartening. It’s in these moments, however, I know that I decide what I will make of each situation. That I control the story — if I even tell one at all.
I know we all will come across obstacles in the year ahead— large and small, fair and unfair. And we will discover again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure. Our reaction determines how successful we will be in overcoming and succeeding despite —or because of — our obstacles.
The night before my daughter returned to college from Christmas break, we watched the movie Eat, Pray, Love. She’d never seen it, and I hadn’t seen it in years. The main character played by Julia Roberts said something that stuck with me — “Ruin is the road to transformation.”
It confirmed what I’d been thinking: maybe I was being given a chance to make my next creation even better than the last.
This year my wish for you is that you never let a good obstacle stop you. When things go bump or even crash, remember to look for the opportunity for transformation before you. It served me to trust that the universe has my back even when I don’t understand its’ plan.
It’s on us to get back into the driver’s seat when difficult things happen. And they will. Sometimes every day. But when we turn our obstacles into opportunities, we can turn our own adversity into our advantage.
All my best,