Becoming Resilient by Being Average

You know exactly what’s going on in the world. Things are tough right now, and all of us are experiencing some kind of hardship. There are socio-political issues around race, and, in the United States, an election that seems to be one of the most important elections we’ll have in our lifetimes. There’s the ongoing health crisis where new outbreaks of COVID-19 seem to be picking up as we enter the fall. And, there’s this economic recession overlaying all of it. Not to mention the many other challenges each of us are facing in our own lives and communities. 

It all seems heavy. I have numerous friends coming to me tired and anxious. Most of my good friends have cried at work at least once over the last few weeks. It makes sense. Things aren’t easy at this moment.

Having a Plan When We Face Adversity

If there is one thing I know about startup founders (and most of the people reading this blog), it’s that they will continue to face these problems head-on and persevere towards their goals. That’s the good news.

The more difficult part is the mentality in which I see founders (and others reading this blog) have as they tackle these problems head-on. The issue isn’t that founders aren’t willing to tackle problems head-on. Rather, it’s that many of us don’t have a clear “script”, or plan, for handling adversity, and this can cause us to become paralyzed. 

Fortunately, there are a couple of scripts that we can live by when handling tough situations, and they both have to do with the payoff of perseverance. 

The First Script—Just Keep Swimming

I’m currently reading the book “The Psychology of Money.” It’s a great read by Wall Street Journal author Morgan Housel.  Most of the book is focused on the mentality needed to generate long-term successful investment portfolios.  And yet, his thoughts hold true for those of us who hope to have long-term successful careers.

His secret—when things seem difficult, it’s important to just keep going amidst the chaos. 

Think about Napoleon for a second. His definition of a military genius was, “The man who can do the average thing when all those around him are going crazy.”

The same mentality holds true for each of us in our jobs when things are tough. Over the course of our careers, there are a handful of days that are significant and impactful. However, most of the time, the things we do every day are pretty average. Yet, when we face adversity, many of us feel like we need to do something big and powerful and important. But think about the stock market for a second because it could help us in these situations.  If you would have invested $1 every month rom 1900 to 2019 when the stock market is thriving, sell everything when the market is in a recession, and invest everything back into the stock market when the recession ends, you would end up with $257,386 at the end of 2019. Or, if you wait even longer to regain confidence in the market, and you would have invested $1 in stocks when the recession is completely over a few months later, you would end up with $234,476.

But, if you invest $1 in the stock market every month rain or shine (good times or bad) from 1900 to 2019, you would have $435,551

$435,551 for just doing the “normal” thing you’ve always done.

The point is, if you continue to invest the same amount in good times and bad, you will always outperform those who only show up when times are good.  It seems like the winners are the ones who “can do the average thing when all those around him are going crazy.”

The same holds true for us as we’re facing adversity. You don’t have to be a hero, and you also don’t have to become paralyzed. By just showing up and having typical days, you’ll not only get through it, but you’ll typically have so much stronger careers in the long-run because of the fact you just kept going, even if you were just being average.”. 

I have a friend who works at the Federal Reserve in Washington, D.C. who objectively has one of the most demanding jobs in the world. When I ask him how he continues to keep his head above water, he says “I just keep moving like a shark.” In both good and hard times, he continues to steadily do average or normal things and he’s able to not only make it through but end up better on the other side. 

The Second Script—Processing Negativity

The other part of the script comes down to processing the negative inputs coming our way which, as we showed above, there is no lack of right now.

My uncle-in-law, Brian, runs a solid farm in Kansas. The thing that I’ve learned from Brian is that every year, there are different weather patterns, weeds, and cattle illnesses that can affect his financial outcomes for the year. There isn’t a single year that he doesn’t have something tough hit his crops or his cattle. 

And yet, when you go visit the farm, he’s steady. He seems unphased by whatever is happening at the moment. He’s been doing this for years and experienced the ups and downs. He knows that one year’s bad crop is not indicative of how future year’s crops will turn out. He’s hopeful, even if he’s having a bad year. 

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While we’re in this tough season, it’s important for all of us to stop and realize what we can learn and do.

We have to keep moving forward and doing what we can. If we believe that things will in fact get better, it requires us to keep going. Morgan Housel has proven that investing in the stock market consistently every month will yield returns in the long run. Brian doesn’t stop weeding when the weeds come in or treating the animals when they get sick. He just keeps moving, hopeful that things will get better by the work he does, and in the end, it pays off.

This too will pass, and previous failures are not indicative of future success or failures. Brian’s bad crop last year doesn’t mean he will have another bad crop this year. Just because we had a bad month last month, doesn’t mean that we’re going to have another bad month this month. We’re in a weird season that will hopefully soon end. Just like the weather changes on the farm, this pandemic will one day end. There is hope. All of this can be incredibly freeing. 

So, my mantra for this season is: Amidst the chaos, I’m going to keep moving, believing that things won’t be like this forever.