3 Ways to Overcome Adversity and Succeed in Life
Entrepreneurs can't afford to let challenging times get them down. Here are three essential ways to survive and thrive through adversity.
I think we can all agree one of the most universal experiences we face as human beings is adversity. As leaders, team members and entrepreneurs, we all have stories about how we've come through challenging times — including me.
I had just moved to China to take on the role as president of Yum! China, at a time when the business was suffering a sharp decline in sales. I had to turn things around — and fast — but the context presented quite a few challenges. The company was a $6 billion business with a level of complexity significantly different from my previous roles. Among the nearly 400,000 employees in China, I was only one of five non-Mandarin speakers. And every meeting, every email and virtually all communications were in Mandarin.
I was stressed out about the responsibility both to the large team there, as well as the adverse impact of the China-based business performance on global operations. At times I was worried about failure, too, but I couldn't let the anxiety paralyze me. I had to find ways to power through the challenges. Fortunately, over time, I have been on a journey to nurture a positive outlook on life and work. It's helped me to overcome adversity at various times in my life, and it served me well during this situation, too.
Studies have shown that at least two-thirds of adults have lived through some form of adversity, and the way we react to difficult situations has a lot to do with our upbringing, our personality and our outlook on life. I've almost always chosen to see the sunnier side of challenging circumstances — embracing a growth mindset and looking for silver linings in the form of opportunities to learn.
Here are three ways entrepreneurs can overcome negative thinking, cope with challenging times and leverage the strength and stamina to come out on top.
Go to where the rubber hits the road
Back in China, it would have been all too easy for me to become paralyzed by the barriers along my path. For example, to gain insights and learnings, I took a different route from the meetings and emails I couldn't understand. I hit the road, going straight to the frontlines, spending time with the restaurant teams to see if I could uncover the problem at its source.
In spite of the language barriers, I visited our restaurants in over 25 provinces in China. What I discovered there eventually led me to the solution I needed. By building relationships with our employees and restaurant managers through the universal language of smiles and gestures (and thanks to the help of amazing colleagues who doubled as interpreters), I was able to develop trust and a network of people who helped me to recognize what had gone wrong — and what we needed to do to fix it.
It was a feat I never could have accomplished sitting in a boardroom or reading emails in my office. To this day, it serves as a powerful reminder to never be afraid to get outside your comfort zone and face a challenging situation head-on.
Find your supporters and ask them for help
It's true that entrepreneurs and business leaders often shoulder a lot of pride. But it's so important not to let pride get in the way of success. Asking for help and support is one of the most important things we can do when adversity gets us down.
Surrounding ourselves with allies is one of the best ways to succeed in life — and in business. Entrepreneurship can sometimes feel like a lonely road, but it doesn't have to be. Running a company with a co-founder, connecting with a mentor or coach, or creating a network of people who can come together to help raise us up — in good times and in bad — makes the inevitable ups and downs of business much more manageable.
I learned this firsthand: I was able to turn to the chair and CEO of Yum! for encouragement and support when I needed it. His counsel helped me feel less alone when I struggled with the complexity of the business and the weight of responsibility. He remains my mentor to this day, and I'll always be grateful for the support he offered. In parallel, I sought to learn and build relationships with a number of my colleagues there, too. Many of those relationships remain strong today, even over WeChat.
Put your oxygen mask on first
In the examples above, and throughout my career, there have been instances when I did not sleep well and was not my best self during the day. We need to be healthy to cope with ongoing stress. I can attest to the invaluable connection between a healthy body and a healthy mind, having undergone my own health journey in the past year. Through the pandemic, I doubled down on healthy habits encompassing a plant-forward diet, mindfulness, sound sleep and regular exercise.
With the focus on health and wellness brought on by the last several years, never have there been more reasons to put our health first. A U.K. government study showed 80% of respondents were inspired to change their lifestyle last year thanks to the pandemic.
I've written before about other essential habits for healthy entrepreneurs, because I truly believe we cannot be productive if we're not putting our wellness first. And much like the importance of charging our positivity battery, it's also crucial to take the time to build up our stamina and a deep well of resilience.
In business as in life, setbacks are simply inevitable. Success in the long term requires the ability to pick yourself up, dust off and keep moving forward. As Rocky Balboa famously said, it's not about how many punches you throw, but how many you can take and keep standing.
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