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Growing Pains: How to Turn Hard Times Into Periods of Immense Personal Growth

Difficult times are often par for the course in business, but your response and approach to these hard times will determine whether they result in hardships or growth.

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Almost every entrepreneur will identify with the term “growing pains,” especially in reference to a business’s early months and years. There are periods of time when almost every day presents a struggle to work through or a knot to untangle — I’ve certainly been there myself! If you’re not experiencing any growing pains, you're probably not growing.

But the good news is that last week’s setback does not define you. In a year’s time, you probably won’t remember whatever problem kept you awake last night. It can be difficult to step back when you’re knee-deep in the latest challenge, but my advice is always to “take the long view.” Today’s trials will eventually fade into memory, as long as you put in the work to conquer them and avoid getting pulled off your path to success. Instead of seeing problems as obstacles cluttering the road ahead, try to view them as steps to climb. Put one foot in front of the other and you will ascend higher toward your goals.

Look outside yourself for inspiration

Many entrepreneurs default to looking inwards for inspiration, ideas and answers to problems. Under the right circumstances, that practice can serve you well. However, don't forget that opening up to your partners, advisors, line managers and other members of your extended team can make all the difference. Sometimes, turning outwards leads to solutions you never would have considered.

Over the course of my career, I’ve learned that there’s no shame in being transparent, and even vulnerable, at times. Just because you’re the leader doesn’t mean you have to solve every problem. I’ve seen the smartest developers get completely stuck after weeks of staring at endless lines of code. Then, a random conversation will come along with someone from a different team, who knows nothing at all about code, and a spark happens. Suddenly, the problem is fixed. This is proof that sometimes all you need to do is get out of your own head.

It’s definitely a mindset shift that takes practice to master. Next time you feel like you’ve hit a wall, rather than let yourself crumble, just hit the pause button. There’s no need to sink too deeply into the issue right away. Instead, seek out counsel and input from your trusted circle. 

Related: 5 Examples of How Hard Times Breed the Most Impactful Innovations

Release that vice-like grip on control

Many entrepreneurs aren’t wired to be comfortable with uncertainty. Often, they’re naturally geared toward order and discipline. They thrive on structure and feel the need to be in control of every situation. Having lived through my fair share of personal and professional hard times, I’ve learned that it’s necessary to accept that you can’t always be in control. Once you realize this, two things happen: First, you’ll be able to experience uncomfortable emotions like tension, frustration or disappointment without them dampening your resolve to succeed. Second, you’ll seize control back from your challenges or setbacks and put them to work for you.

Think of it as going to the gym for a workout and pushing yourself really hard. Over the next few days, your muscles ache as they recover and repair themselves. It might hurt, but that’s precisely how they build new mass and strength. By the next time you hit the gym, that discomfort is a distant memory, and you’re able to push yourself even harder. It’s the same in business. When problems inevitably appear, rather than immediately fret about the worst-case scenario, your first thought should be, “Here’s an opportunity for growth. What am I going to learn from this?”

Related: Stop Moving the Goalposts: Do You Recognize Your Own Success?

What’s hiding in plain sight?

These opportunities masquerading as challenges can present themselves in multiple ways. For example, suppose one of your employees approaches you with a problem he or she is experiencing on a project. Instead of getting laser-focused on sorting it out so the employee can get back to work, pause, ask questions and listen carefully. 

Perhaps the employee isn't in the right role for his or her skill set or personality. Maybe the employee needs more flexibility and is just too afraid to ask. Once you dig a little deeper, you might even discover that it’s not just the one person who is struggling or unhappy. It might be the entire team. If that’s the case, you have a golden opportunity to make that person feel heard and potentially improve the organization in a larger way.

Once the problem is solved, don’t just clap your hands and walk away. The most important thing is making sure it never happens again. Of course, the old saying, “You can’t make everyone happy,” holds true. Furthermore, you can’t make everyone happy by simply throwing money at them. In many cases, this is a frail and temporary fix. Take the time to understand the true complexity of their dissatisfaction, or it will end up festering. 

At my company, Boardsi, one of our customer-service reps recently spoke up about his workload. He was overwhelmed by the daily volume of emails and phone calls and was starting to fall behind. Our solution was to center his focus on email communication and hire a new rep to take over telephone outreach. This allowed us to grow as a company and resolve our employee’s issue. 

Outside the organization, we have accepted that not every customer will be happy 100% of the time. For instance, we used to send email notifications about all changes to our service. People began to complain that they were getting too many messages from us, so we decided to scale back. Then, we received feedback from customers who wanted more regular updates. So, there are no perfect answers to certain problems. What we realized, though, is that we can develop tailored solutions wherever possible and make sure everyone feels heard. 

At the end of the day, the best thing you can do for customers and employees is engage and listen. When a seemingly impossible issue presents itself, remember not to despair. How you move through challenges will define your business and set guidelines for a successful future. Look for solutions to problems that will serve as opportunities for you and your people. Grow together, and grow as one.

Related: 5 Ways Personal Growth Makes Your Business Stronger

Martin Rowinski

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Martin Rowinski is the CEO of Boardsi, a corporate board recruitment company. Rowinski is also an investor and author.