Gratitude for Challenging Times (and Challenging People)

November 30, 2021

Earlier this fall, I had an interaction with a business friend, during which I expressed that I was indeed doing fine, though struggling with anger over some of the measures taken in this pandemic crisis - and especially with what were then recently-announced measures.  I shared how my heart grieved for the nurses and medical workers who were being fired across the nation for refusing an experimental “vaccine” - despite in many or most cases having acquired what may be superior immunity through natural infection. Check out this article in The Wall Street Journal on topic. Perhaps worse, my intellect ached in considering why many millions of especially blue-collar workers would be mandated to get vaccinated or get fired at a time when labor shortages were already acute and supply chains fragile - as we headed into the holidays!  It seemed a sort of economic suicide pact forced upon the nation, and at least in my mind, my anger was righteous.  

My friend, much-experienced in meditation, and yoga, and Chinese culture - advised that I needed to release my anger, and replace it with acceptance...and boy oh boy, did that make me mad!  I was married to my anger you see, and it was a beautiful and righteous anger, and who was he to tell me that I needed to accept this medically-intrusive, anti-liberty policy approach?  I ended the conversation abruptly, and departed to seethe for a couple of hours before continuing on with productive work. 

But he was right of course.  As righteous as my anger may have been, I was getting it wrapped around the axle - and not doing myself any favors - nor doing any good for those nurses and truck drivers and factory workers for whom my anger boiled.  Anger can be a good thing you see, in that it brings to light issues that may represent a threat or a barrier to flourishing or equality - but as I expressed in my September blog - too much of every good thing is bad.  Eventually, I took his advice and spent some intentional time meditating on acceptance, and working to intentionally release my anger - and my anger has subsided and I’m better for it, and some of the policies suspended while the court system works it out.  He challenged me - and it ticked me off - but now I’m better than I was, and likely better than I would be if not for his challenge - and so I am grateful for it.  

That’s what I’m going to write about today, is this notion that not only should we be grateful for our many blessings, as our recent Thanksgiving feasts have focused upon, but that we should also be grateful for our challenges.  Broadly, I plan to chart the following course:

  1. How challenging oneself, both physically and mentally, brings about a stronger, more-capable person.
  2. Why diverse teams of individuals empowered to openly challenge one another create better outcomes than teams of homogeneous yes-men (and yes-women).
  3. How our businesses - and indeed our economic, educational, and cultural systems - are strengthened by challenge...and why we’ll get weaker if we choose to avoid it.

Shouldn’t take more than 1,000 words or so - but it’ll make you a smarter person and a better reader, so buckle up, buttercup, and let’s explore together!

A couple weeks ago, I was chatting with my ma, and as I was encouraging her to get out walking more (as she complained about the extra weight she’s put on through the covid season) she asked me about how much running I’ve been doing.  Not much was the answer - I ran a 5k back in August on my birthday, but hadn’t logged more than a few short runs in the weeks since.  But - I shared - because I’d gotten into such a shape as to run half marathons and other endurance runs a few years back I could probably still go knock out a 5 miler tomorrow if I wanted to.  She was shocked, and I dare to say she didn’t believe me, as I’d not been running much even before the 5k.  Two days later, my friend John was heading up to the foothills for a training run before the Horsetooth Half, and called to see if I wanted to join.  We knocked out a 6.5 mile loop, and in all humility - I felt pretty good afterward and the next day.  When I started running about 7 years ago now, it was brutal just logging a mile without stopping, and for months it seemed like there was a barrier at the 2-mile mark that required I walk at some point before making it that far.  

Now, it won’t last forever if I never run, but I am durably stronger as a runner than I was 7 years ago, and two miles is a piece of cake - or pumpkin pie.  And it’s not just physically - running is a mental game as much as physical it - and my running brain is much better at telling couch potato brain to “shut up and keep running” than it was those years ago.  Trying to do hard things - and then doing them - is a key to being a better person today than you were yesterday, and that’s really the biggest comparison that we should all be making - and it will help you live a long time, and healthier.  I’m preparing mentally to try to get tougher - push some weights and try to get some muscles before I get even older - but I don’t really want to...and so I’ve been putting it off - but running a bit.  🙂

The same is true in business - if a business does only the same thing, without introducing new products and services, it tends to peak early and then slowly degrade in terms of value provided and revenues generated.  Innovation is challenging, and it can rock the boat a bit for some - especially those who value stability, but businesses that fail to innovate often fade quickly.  And as they are growing and innovating, they are adding new team members, and usually stretching the skills and abilities of the founder/owner/leader of the business along the way.  

One common situation I’ve seen is that a business will grow steadily and profitably until they have 5 or 7 or 9 employees, and then stagnate - and it’s almost always the leader to blame.  Somewhere in that 5 - 10 employee range tends to be the upper limit on how many individuals a leader can manage, and so if a business wishes to grow beyond that space - the leader is going to have to hire (or promote) other leaders to help manage if they wish to continue adding staff - or they can become spread more and more thin and do a poor job of managing everyone!  

Hiring and managing leaders (or promoting them) is a different project than hiring and managing staff, and many fail in their first efforts - and sometimes in their 2nd and 3rd efforts, and sometimes they determine that they should just “stay small”.  But, thinking small seldom draws new customers, and even more rarely great employees.  But it’s not always about thinking big either - you’ve got to think smart - and execute.  Much has been written about the value of diverse teams, and I think it’s largely because they build a culture of challenging one another, which challenges the team and brings out the strengths of its’ members.  

I’ve written previously about the Hallos Relational Intelligence course that we took this fall, and it fits right into this discussion, and no doubt is part of the inspiration of this segment - though I didn’t know I was going in this direction until just now.  Here’s a super-quick primer:  

  • There are 5 Archetypes described:  WHITE (Thinker/Innovator), GREEN (Social/Relational), ORANGE (Achiever/Entrepreneur), BLUE (Organizer/Planner), and BROWN (Integrator/Systems Thinker)
  • We each have a pair of these archetypes (or essences) that work in a bit of a yin-yang fashion, contending (challenging) for operational focus of the consciousness.  One may be more or less balanced, or have strong predilection in one area.  
  • In addition, we have a developed type, less inherent, that works together with the pair to stabilize and make for a stronger base.
  • I’m a white-green, with an orange developed trait - all evidenced in the name and offerings of my small business, LoCo Think Tank.  Deb is the same colors as me, and Alma is a blue-brown, also with orange - and my Honey Bear is a blue-green, also with orange - she is super-heavy on the blue, which is my weakest area.

We’ve tested many of our facilitators now, and they’re loaded with orange, and I suspect we’ll find the same as we test through our chapter memberships - the achiever/entrepreneur type.  With doctors, you’ll find a lot of green types (want to help people), and brown types (systems thinkers), and at the library many blues.  So - primer complete, the point I wish to make follows:

These different types of thinkers challenge one another in charting the course of the business and creating new value for clients - we need the process thinkers to plan and develop systems, we need the organizers to keep track of data and operations, we need the achievers and the idea-people and the love and camaraderie to hold it all together.  These various types bring perspective and clarity in serving a diverse client base, and it’s one of my favorite everybody-wins scenarios we’re always looking for as a society.  

Now, what works in a micro-sense in a small business also pertains at a macro-level in an economy - the challenge presented to an established industry of a new product hopefully creates an outcome beneficial to consumers, destructive though it may be to those established industries.  I’m thinking back to the days of early music sharing, and Netflix during the days of Blockbuster dominance, and digital cameras, and social media and the internet blowing up the established newspaper industry.  And before all that, the convenience of a Model T Ford vs. keeping horses in a stable.  Did you know horse populations in our nation dropped 92% after the introduction of the automobile?!  It was a genocide of sorts, but all driven by supply and demand, and not some totalitarian warlord, so that makes it ok.

It’s obvious to any reader or watcher of the news that we’re facing many challenges as a nation - and as a global economy in the present moment.  We’ve got the mysterious Omicron variant kicking up new rounds of maskings and travel bans - and challenging Pfizer and Moderna to roll out new formulations of their mRNA treatments custom-built for Omicron - which may be found outdated by the time of their release!  But don’t you worry, they’ll keep releasing new vaxxes and boosters for as long as we keep buying it.  We’ve got the challenge of global warming, or the contest over control of global energy, depending on your perspective - with Europe leading the way toward starvation or freezing of too many of its’ citizens if they have a tough winter, and we’ve got the challenge of inflation and what one can or should do about it, to name a few.  We’ve got Bitcoin and other crypto currencies challenging the fiat monetary system that’s been in a control position for nearly 100 years now, and we’ve got charter and home schools challenging the public education system like never before!  SO MANY CHALLENGES, and what should we do about them?

To me, finding solutions to these challenges starts with dialogue - we need to be able to discuss challenges and opportunities openly, and let bad ideas be confronted with better ideas, and good ideas to be challenged by great ones.  The notion that Twitter and LinkedIn and Facebook/Meta can reliably be the deciders of truth seems so dangerous to me - and it doesn’t serve the purpose for which it was intended.  Instead, no one knows who to trust anymore - public confidence in institutions such as the media, congress, court system, education system, banks and big business is terrible - and getting worse every year!  Don’t believe me?, you can read more about it here.  

So what are we to do about all this, then?

Embrace challenges, be grateful.  Love your enemies and give thanks that we live in a nation that can still make room for all perspectives.  Most importantly, bring it down to an individual level and challenge yourself - do something hard, learn something new, maybe start a side hustle or buy a rental property.  Listen to understand, not to reply.  Sometimes, you may have to agree to disagree, but you’ll be strengthened by the additional perspective.  If you’re a part of the media, or government, or the other aforementioned institutions - provide and promote truth and transparency, always.  Trust is one of our greatest national assets, and the great lubricant to our economic engine.  Mistrust is sand in the oil, and gums the whole thing up.  

Our whole economy is made up of small decisions, practiced daily, and then aggregated.  If we all take the responsibility to challenge ourselves to be a little bit better than the person we were yesterday, to listen and learn and love as we are called - the world can only get better.  Self-reflect, seek new perspectives, and grow stronger.  If we shrink from the challenges, complain about our neighbors, narrow our perspectives, and make comfort and safety our biggest priorities - we may find ourselves with neither.  

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