As a kid, I helped trail hundreds of cows and calves from the shelter of the foothills to summer pasture in the high country near Laramie Peak. Early on, my life’s challenges were to saddle a horse on my own and push cows along the trail.
My Dad taught me to saddle and ride horses, rope steers, and herd cattle when I was in grade school. I never quite got the gist of how to dally a rope, however, so I never shined like a star as a roper.
As I got older, life’s challenges on the trail changed as well. I’d need a horse fast enough to catch up with a calf that cut back from the herd. Since I couldn’t lasso, the horse needed to get me close enough where I could, in a literal sense, drop the loop over the calf’s head. Calves may be young and small but they can run like hell. My other strategy was to keep my eyes glued to those who looked back. I made sure I stayed close behind them.
Challenges may morph, but they are unavoidable. If we can learn to accept them as children, the better our chance of success as adults. According to a Wall Street Journal article by Meg Jay, children who learn to handle their own problems are also the ones with exceptional achievement as adults.
The article cites a book called “Cradles of Eminence” which chronicles the childhood of over 400 famous men and women. Of the 400, 75% (almost 300) had grown up in a family with troubles. These included poverty, abuse, absent parents, alcoholism, serious illness, or loss of a parent. The study concludes that the normal person is not a likely candidate for the Hall of Fame.
To be truthful, many kids today are over-protected. They are not required to handle life’s challenges because parents or nannies take care of problems for them. Their only job is to play and have fun. But here is the truth: not everyone gets to play with the red ball in the playground. No matter how hard parents try to protect their child, trauma in the form of disappointments and rejection is part of growing up.
No one wants to see a child endure abuse, but there’s still a way to toughen up children so they can handle life’s challenges. According to Paul Tough, author of “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character,” there is a way. Kids who take their failures seriously, but analyze why they failed and how they can do it differently next time, tend to become successful as adults.
There’s something about learning how to leverage our strengths to handle life’s challenges at an early age that prepares us to overcome life’s challenges as adults. Once we focus on our shortcomings, we begin to think about what skills we do possess as well as what we’re missing, and how to overcome the gap.
Here are some suggestions on ways to handle life’s challenges in both business and life:
1. Move Toward The Challenge
If your strategy is to avoid life’s challenges, remember that the continual need for delusion will be huge. It will also suck up a great deal of your energy. It may seem easier at first to turn away, or pretend the problem is smaller than it really is. But, reality will rear its ugly head at some point in the future and you’ll be forced to deal with the problem.
The closer we get to our challenge, the more we can educate ourselves about it. If we can get close enough to analyze it, we can assess which of our strengths will be needed to overcome it. The steps to follow and actions to take may not reveal themselves to us until we have moved closer to the situation. Mountain climbers understand that it’s impossible to know where to place fingers and feet by looking at a mountain from the bottom. They find safety only when they get close enough to explore the cracks and crevices.
As a kid, I learned to analyze life’s challenges and obstacles so I could find a way around, over, or through them. My biggest challenge at eight years old was how to saddle my tall quarter horse. I couldn’t rely on Dad or Grandma to have the time to throw a forty-pound saddle onto my horse’s back. They made it clear—I needed to fix my own problem. I pulled my saddle into the back of our pickup and then tied my horse to the pickup as well. I remember my horse backed away once and my saddle ended up astride his neck. Still, it hadn’t fallen to the ground so I hopped down and drug it down his neck and onto his back. Voila!
TIP: Boldness comes from your head. It’s a cerebral activity that recognizes opportunities, creates plans, and assesses the danger. If you refuse to face your fear, it’s almost impossible to grow because, in its simplest form, all behavior is the product of either fear or desire. Fear is not something to be avoided. A strong mind recognizes fear for what it is—a sign that you need to face the issue or obstacle in front of you.
Fortune falls heavily on those for whom she’s unexpected. The one always on the lookout easily endures—Seneca
2. Prepare To Take Action
Life deals you a bad hand. What are you going to do? Move toward the challenge, cry like a baby, run away, or do nothing?
Our reaction is a test of character and it says a lot about us. Always remember that it doesn’t matter what you’ve been given, what matters is what you do with it. Since we have layers of fear, often our first response is to exaggerate the situation and interpret life’s challenges as a crisis. We become cautious, retreat, and hope for things to get better—all on their own. Parents who over-protect their kids from adversity reinforce that way of thinking. They swoop in and come to the rescue. As a result, their kids never have to analyze how to work it out for themselves. They do not have the opportunity to develop their strengths to compensate for their weaknesses.
People turn shit into sugar all the time. There are certain types of people who experience childhood struggles, like poverty and strife, and go on to incredible achievement. They learn to be resilient because what is in front of them is all they know, so they work with it.
If saddling a tall horse for an eight-year-old was hard, imagine how difficult it was to bridle him. Again, my Dad and Grandmother did not have the time and expected me to deal with the situation. My horse would stretch up his long neck and and I wasn’t tall enough to slip the bridle over the top of his head. So, I stood in the feed trough so I could reach him.
The damned horse then clenched his teeth so I couldn’t insert the bit. An old hired hand showed me a trick: run my thumb along the horse’s lower jaw and insert my thumb behind his back teeth. The horse couldn’t bite me and it irritated him enough to where he’d open his mouth. Voila!
When you make yourself aware of certain difficulties that are inevitable, you can prepare yourself mentally for confronting them head-on. Soldiers and athletes appreciate the preparation it takes to mentally and physically meet the challenges ahead of them. They know it can be ugly, daunting, and grueling, but they are equipped.
TIP: The middle of a crisis is not the time to learn how to handle life’s challenges and remove obstacles. Train ahead of time so that before they present themselves, you have cultivated courage, confidence, and discipline.
3. Move Past Self-Limiting Beliefs
Most barriers are internal, not external. We make certain assumptions about ourselves and how life’s challenges should be approached and solved. These thoughts produce self-limiting because they can trap us into an outmoded way of thinking about ourselves and our abilities.
The U.S. Army is using research that has shown most people, when confronted with adversity and the need to remove obstacles, will experience initial feelings of fear, frustration, and paralysis. Given sufficient amounts of time, however, they recover and continue to perform at the same level they were performing before the adversity.
At one end of the continuum there are a small percentage of people who do not bounce back and remain unable to cope with their circumstances without assistance. They often need counseling and can experience breakdowns.
On the other end of the continuum, however, are those with strong minds who not only survive adverse and traumatic situations, but also thrive and grow. The key is having the right attitude. People who have affirming thoughts about themselves and their abilities are more likely to survive the intense pressure of obstacles and adversity.
TIP: The most effective way of breaking through self-limiting barriers, either those in front of us or the artificial ones we’ve erected, is to make small shifts in thinking. If one thing does not work, try another. A truly daunting task can produce discouragement in the toughest person. The trick is to focus on the little piece that is right in front of you. If you are bogged down with a huge task, break it down into small enough pieces so that you can set goals or markers of achievement for yourself. Then focus your attention on that.
4. Change The Way You Interpret Your Circumstances
There is an old parable about a boy who was so discouraged by his experiences in school he told his grandfather he wanted to quit. His grandfather filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first, he placed carrots, in the second he placed eggs and in the last he placed ground coffee beans. He let the water boil, without saying a word. In about twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then he ladled the coffee out into a cup. Turning to the boy, he asked, “Tell me, what do you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” the boy replied.
Then he asked the boy to feel the carrots, which he did and noted that they were soft and mushy. His grandfather then asked him to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, the boy observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked the boy to sip the coffee. He smiled as he tasted the coffee with its rich aroma. The boy asked, “I don’t understand. What does this mean, if anything?”
His grandfather laughed and explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity–boiling water–but each had reacted differently. “Which are you?” the grandfather asked. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, becomes soft and loses strength? Are you the egg that appears not to change but whose heart is hardened? Or are you the coffee bean that changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the coffee bean, when things are at their worst, your very attitude will change your environment for the better, making it sweet and palatable.”
TIP: The moral of this story is that it matters how you look at life’s challenges. We all encounter obstacles. The Grandfather’s lesson is that when you can’t change your circumstances, you change yourself.
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