Light Your Own Fire: Inspiration For a Crisis
In 2002, I stepped in as CEO for the jewelry company my wife had founded 11 years earlier. I was totally inspired by the opportunity and what I thought I could do. But two years later I was still just getting started when our bank proposed difficult new terms for our line of credit and loan. There was suddenly no way to win. The bank’s demands would end our business and cost us our home.
And, I feared, my marriage would come apart in the process, and I would lose my family, too.
I have never been so demoralized or ready to quit as I was at that time. In talking over the crisis with my wife Lori, it was hard for me to even tell her what I was really worried about. It took a lot of courage to tell her that I was most worried that I would screw this all up, lose the house, and lose her and the kids in the process.
Of course, Lori told me that she was not going to leave me if we blew it. In her world, it would be hard and we might have to move in with family, but we would do it together. But, even with my darkest fears handled, I still had no good ideas for what to do.
At a loss for any real inspiration, Lori asked me, “What example do you want to set for our kids in this experience? What would you want them to learn from watching you?”
That question changed everything! If I could set a good example for our kids by not giving up, about perseverance under pressure, that would be worth any struggle. The bigger the challenge, the bigger the lesson. To be honest, thinking of my kids made me want to be a better, bigger man. It made me want to take on the challenge. Rather than feeling despondent anymore, I was now completely moved and emotional about the opportunity to be great for our kids.
The changes came at work, too. I had always tried to shield my team from any problem I didn’t think they could solve. Now, I opened up to them. I admitted that I had no idea how we could resolve this situation; I just could offer potential resources and my promise not to quit. I gave everyone the option to leave—with no hard feelings—or to stay and help us through the crisis. Not a single person left.
By working together, we pulled out of the hole we’d been stuck in. And the next year we set new business records, overtopping anything we’d previously thought possible.
I now use three simple questions to generate inspiration for a crisis and “light my own fire” during times of trial: What? So What? and, Now What?
The first question is about facing the facts. It’s about opening your eyes and looking at what’s actually happening and why. You don’t have to solve every problem your enterprise faces with this question—it’s just about getting yourself to look honestly at what’s happening.
Look at your finances, letters from lawyers or creditors, your assets, and your team. Face what you’re dealing with directly, with eyes wide open.
Asking “what” is also about facing the way you feel and what you’re afraid of.
This part isn’t very inspiring and doesn’t feel good at first. It takes a lot of courage and emotional intelligence, so breathe deeply and keep going until you have the full picture.
Now that you’ve managed to face the music, the next challenge is to accept the situation fully. You can do that by saying to yourself, “so what?”
This statement isn’t belittling your situation. It is about reducing your resistance. You can look honestly at what’s happening, but until you accept and embrace it—until you are no longer resisting anything—you won’t be able to move ahead. Saying “so what?” with a shrug of acceptance allows you to move past that storm of negative emotions clouding your mind.
You’ve probably guessed that saying “so what?” can be emotionally challenging. You may have strong emotions about your situation. Acceptance includes all your emotions too. Accept everything fully, the facts, the impacts that worry you, along with any sadness, anger, or failure that you may be feeling.
This isn’t about turning away from responsibility. It’s about accepting that, despite all your best efforts and intentions, things happen.
Saying “so what?” gives you a freer, “beginning” state of mind, where you can actually discover inspiration.
By this point, you should feel lighter and as if you’re starting with a blank slate. If not, go back to accepting things, because you’re still resisting some part of reality.
This is where inspiration happens. This is the place that can take you from despair to action—confidence that you have the ability to face reality, seize opportunity, and take action.
If you can ask “now what?” from that place of acceptance, you now have the clarity to see new approaches and solutions. What stories would you like to be able to tell about this challenge? I think about what I want to see in the mirror, and the example I want to set for my team, my friends, and my family. That’s when I can find the leadership qualities I most admire in others within myself.
From this inspired place, you can take action. When you see a new way of being that lights you up, new opportunities will also start to arise, and new plans of action will present themselves. When I asked “now what?” and was lit up about setting an example for our kids, I found a negotiation specialist to work with the bank, empowered my team, and opened up to my friends in a way that caused everyone I knew to rally to my support.
The inspiration that saves you might also be something that lights up the world. But before you can set the world on fire, you’ll have to light yourself up.
Stay tuned for more about setting the world on fire in my next post/article. You can also read about how to recapture your passion when it has faded with time in: How to Reboot a CEO and How to Be, Do, and Have anything now.