Finding Meaning In The Face Of Adversity
Being a true marketer at heart, I used to swear by the 4P’s (Product, Price, Place and Promotion), and I was confident that by mastering these four variables, I could build resilient brands and products, and even careers, because let’s face it, careers are products/brands too. We must be at the right place, at the right time, conveying the right message, and do all of this at this right price as well.
Sounds like a magic formula, doesn’t it? The 4P’s is an excellent model, given that we have full control over the events and circumstances and the conditions are favorable for success. But Sun Tzu in The Art of War advises that even though the conditions necessary for success may be present, they cannot always be obtained, and therefore, a wise leader should be a master of uncertainty and chaos, reading the flow of events at any given moment.
In today’s intertwined, interconnected and volatile economical and political environment, Sun Tzu’s ancient words resonate firmer that ever. Brands, people and organizations are exposed and vulnerable to the conditions and environments under which they operate. From cyber security threats to volatilities in the marketplace, none of us is shielded from the conditions and the circumstances that may affect our constant variables.
So the question is not how to shelter ourselves from the instabilities because these are inevitable, but how to become the wise leader Sun Tzu describes, one that is a master of uncertainty and chaos, one who does not react to the circumstances but rather responds to change with dignity, courage and sincerity.
The answer may well be in Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg’s inspiring (and heart wrenching) commencement speech at UC Berkeley in May 2016 on building resilience and dealing with loss. The seeds of resilience, she says, are planted into the way we process negative events in our lives and that comes from understanding the 3P’s: personalization, pervasiveness, and permanence. Here’s a closer look at each of them:
1. Personalization: the belief that we are at fault.
I know very few people who haven’t, at some point in their lives, fall into the trap of personalization, and even when there is a little voice saying, “It is not your fault,” the person sitting opposite to you will, more often that not, put the blame on you. It happens in the workplace, as well as in all other walks of life, and this has happened to me in more than one instance.
Having the courage to look at the situation without feeling victimized, and looking at the broader picture enables us to move from personalization to a wider recognition of the events. Whenever something doesn’t go according to plan, it is never one single person that is at fault. Instead of taking blame and feeling victimized, let’s learn to look at the chain of events and how one impacts the other.
It is important to remember that taking the blame is not the same as taking responsibility; blame is a passive state of being and leaves us feeling victimized and powerless, while responsibility is looking at the situation with a solution orientated mindset and an open dialog.
Taking responsibility means acknowledging the circumstances and responding to the situation.
There were times where personalization and guilt were the only two emotions that would come out whenever I faced a negative situation- those feelings still surge up from time to time, but now I am quick to recover and take responsibility instead. And as cliché as it may sound, at times it is comforting to recognize that: “It is not you, it really is them.”
2. Pervasiveness: the belief that an event will affect all areas of your life
More often than not, pervasiveness is a natural reaction born out of fear and belief that everything in life has a domino effect. That would be true, if the events in our lives were linear and established according to a certain set of variables (remember the 4P’s). Luckily for us, they are not. The belief that careers, relationships and even the economy is a leader of sorts is outdated. In her book Lean In, Sandberg points out that careers today are a jungle gym. We must be prepared to take the leap, step back, jump forward and dance with the uncertainty.
After all, magic seldom happens in the comfort zone.
3. Permanence: the belief that the sorrow will last forever
Do you remember how many times you thought you found the love of your life, or the job of your dreams? I bet the number is more than one, unless you are 16- and even that is questionable! Need I say more?
Acknowledging that nothing is permanent is both comforting and terrifying. Comforting, knowing that this too shall pass and, terrifying, recognizing that we can never be completely sheltered from uncertainty.
Learning to embrace change, taking the time to recognize the 3P’s and having the ability to draw lessons from each situation may very well be the process to becoming the best versions of ourselves that we can be. Looking at the very face of adversity to find meaning in the midst of the chaos can propel us to step out of the comfort zone and to build resilient brands, organizations, careers and personal lives. Find your point on the drill, and learning to feel confortable feeling uncomfortable, is another lesson from Lean In, for “he who does not know the evils of war will not reap the advantages thereby,” as Sun Tzu declares in The Art of War.