March 26, 2019

How to Endure in the Face of Disaster


A Guest Post by Mark McGuinness

Endurance is never easy, but sometimes the path is straighter than others.

Sometime it’s a case of making a plan and executing on it – step by step, enduring the pain, tackling the obstacles, and staying doggedly on track until you finish.

But sometimes your plans collide head-on with reality, and you’re confronted with a major setback.

If you’re an athlete, you suffer a major injury or a crushing defeat.

If you’re an artist, you’re stung by devastating rejection or criticism of your work, and left demoralized and creatively blocked.

If you’re an entrepreneur, you experience a major public failure – watching a new product flop, your stock price nosedive after an IPO, or even your company going bust.

And so on – whatever your field of endeavor, you can probably imagine a similar nightmare scenario.

Faced with disaster, if you want to endure you will need resilience: the ability to bounce back from adversity just as strong (or even stronger) than before.

Now given the choice, I think most of us would choose the straighter path, with no need for resilience thank you very much.

But developing a Plan B to cope with the worst forces us to dig deep, and discover resources of strength and ingenuity we may never have suspected in ourselves. So long term, developing resilience may even lead to greater success.

Not only that, there’s nothing an audience loves so much as a story of heroic recovery against all the odds – which again, could work to your advantage, if you can inspire people to rally to your cause.

Two Types of Entrepreneurial Endurance

Whatever else you might think about Microsoft, you can’t deny that until recently, they have been relentlessly successful on their own terms. Early on, Bill Gates and his Microsoftees found their market, their business model, their core products and partners, and swept all before them, like well-drilled Roman legions.

Impressive? You bet. Inspiring? Meh.

Apple, on the other hand, is a different story.

Even if you don’t follow the fortunes of tech companies, you’ll know the bare bones of the tale: the humble beginnings in a garage, the charismatic founder who persuaded the world to ‘Think Different’ about computing. That SuperBowl ad.

And then the fall from grace … the  sacking of Steve Jobs from his own company, and the nosedive in Apple’s fortunes, to the point where its demise was widely (and gleefully) predicted.

Finally, the triumphant second act, as Jobs returned to resurrect the company with a series of block-busting, game-changing, category-defining products, each introduced with a flourish by the master presenter, at events that brought an unprecedented sense of theatre to product launches.

What makes the story of Jobs and Apple so compelling is its back-from-the-brink plot, requiring the man and his company to develop apparently superhuman levels of resilience.

Given the choice, I’m sure the younger Jobs would have preferred to avoid losing his company and watching it lose its way. But having gone through the pain and learned the lessons, the older Jobs possessed knowledge, wisdom and achievements that put him in a class of his own.

Compared to all that, the chapters in the Microsoft story look as humdrum as successive iterations of MS Word.

And yet … Microsoft is now the company in (relative) crisis, falling behind tech trends and struggling to play catch-up in a post-PC world. If it is to endure, it will need to develop Apple-eque levels of resilience.

Hopefully you’ll never face disaster on a grand scale. But whenever you have to deal with a setback on the road to achieving your ambitions, here are some pointers to help you build resilience and get back on track as soon as possible.

How to Build Resilience:

#1 Acknowledge the Fall

When a disaster strikes, the worst thing you can do is plough on regardless. Which can be hard if you’ve conditioned yourself to keep going and endure in spite of all the odds.

It can be a fine line. Endurance athletes know all about pushing through the pain barriers – but if the pain is the symptom of a serious injury, you can do more harm than good by pushing on. Too many steps forward could lead to months of going backwards in treatment.

Other times the catastrophe is so obvious there’s no way of avoiding it.

Either way, it’s critical to assess the problem as soon as possible – only once you know the reality of your situation are you in a position to do something about it.

#2 Give Yourself a Break

When you’re hit by a big shock, and once you’ve taken any necessary emergency action, give yourself a break to absorb it.

The football (as in soccer) coach Martin O’Neill once revealed that he gives his teams 48 hours to feel sorry for themselves after a defeat. He wants them to feel the pain, learn the lesson and process it. Then it’s back to training.

Take the time you need to process your feelings and readjust your mindset – so that when you get back to work, its with 100% focus.

#3. Resolve to Learn

When you’re faced with a major setback, you can be defeatist, or rail against it in frustration. Or you can treat it as a learning opportunity and start to become curious about what it can teach you.

No prizes for guessing which option builds more resilience.

#4. Explore Your Options

When you get back to work, it’s worth asking lots of questions to fully understand the challenge and generate options for solving it:

  • What’s the real problem?

  • What caused it?

  • Has anyone else encountered this problem before and solved it? If so, what did they do?

  • Who else might know how to help me with this?

  • What skills or knowledge am I going to need? Where can I learn them?

Don’t just do this alone – talk to your partners, colleagues, team-mates, peers, mentors and anyone else who can help you (a) generate plenty of good options and (b) pick the best ones.

#5. Get Back to Work

Now that you’ve acknowledged the problem, taken time to absorb the shock, determined to learn from it, and generated some options for solving it, it’s time to get back to work.

Going through this process will prepare you for the new challenge, and give you the best shot at overcoming it. When you get going, keep experimenting and adjusting based on feedback.

Once you start to see positive results, you can build momentum using your familiar ‘endurance tools’ – the mindset, habits and actions that have served you well in the past. Using them to work on the challenge of recovery will strengthen your resilience into lasting endurance.

How has resilience helped you endure?

Have you ever had to deal with a major setback?

How did you deal with it? 

What did you learn from the experience?

Mark McGuinness is a coach who helps creatives and entrepreneurs endure the ups and downs of their roller coaster existence, and the author of Resilience: Facing Down Rejection and Criticism on the Road to Success.