A glowing, dark yellow sky, along with a stillness in the eerie calm of recently blowing trees and distant thunder and flashes of light, reminds me of my childhood in Indiana’s Tornado Alley. Warnings were issued today, but thankfully we’re hearing none of those sirens we used to fear as children. We knew if one went off, it was time to take shelter.
Storms come in all forms, and we’ve been living in a storm for around 60 days, a storm that ripped up the green trees of our economy, destroyed everything in its path, and leveled households. There was no warning, and no one before has experienced a storm quite like this, the mother of all storms.
How will we rebuild? How will we survive? We feel helpless.
For each of us, life has brought frightening moments and problems that seemed insurmountable, impossible to get over. Yet we got through them somehow.
A Giant Rock
Much like the frustrated rock climber at the bottom of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, it seems impossible from the bottom, but everything seems much easier once you’re at the top.
A mountain cannot be conquered in one leap, unless you have a copter, a parachute, or a jet pack, and climbers know that the climb goes literally one rock at a time to the top. Focusing on the top is less important than focusing on the quality of each individual step. It’s the steps that can bring our downfall.
Footing Is Everything
It will be no different for us. We may not see the instant success we hope for, or the return to normal, but if we pace ourselves and keep our footing, we will accomplish the impossible. We simply have to have faith that we can get through whatever challenge we’re handed.
In a time like this, one wonders where to start. Especially when the old ways no longer work.
If you’re feeling helpless or alone, that’s a very normal reaction. But surprisingly, you don’t have to go through this alone, even if the responsibility seems to fall on your shoulders.
Instead of running for the mountain head-on, run in the opposite direction. The further you step back, the more you’ll gain perspective, and you’ll connect with your support team, those who love you the most, to help you make a step-by-step plan.
The best way to stop feeling alone is to surround yourself with others who believe in you — the people who can help you see the possibilities, and those who can encourage you that any mountain, no matter how hard, can be climbed.
By day two of quarantine, seeing the impact of the virus on my business and my income, I was visibly shaken.
I was afraid. I was concerned I’d not be able to feed my family or the families of my employees.
Worst Case Scenarios
Knowing my kids were about to graduate high school, my mind raced through scenarios of not being able to send them to college, they’re not having a proper graduation, and they’re having to live their lives like masked bandits.
Dominating My Thought
Yet after seeking the perspective of friends and family, I realized there was a different narrative than the one dominating my thoughts. Once others pointed out ideas and opportunity, it sparked new life, new confidence, and removed all my worry. It set me on a path, knowing I’d get through it, knowing I’d be stronger on the other side, and believing I was up for the task.
I was no longer being controlled by my fear and self-pity.
Learning to Fly
When I was 19, I learned to fly an airplane. Having grown up with a father who flew, I had heard the stories of the importance of letting go. Your mind is telling you a story that you are flying straight, but your gauges are telling you your speed is increasing, you’re in a spin, and your plane is headed for the ground. Pilots die when they don’t read the gauges and react as they were trained. They die when they allow their emotions to cloud their judgment. They die when they try to correct the plane based on their gut instead of following the checklist.
Spiral Dive to the Death
I recall a story my dad tells of being in a spin toward the ground, the plane shaking, knowing that he was probably in the last two minutes of his life. His controls were not correcting things, but his training kicked in. “Just let go and let the plane correct itself.” It’s not an easy thing to do, but the plane corrected and pulled itself out of the spin, and when he emerged from the clouds, he knew he had been just a couple of hundred feet from slamming into the dirt. His ability to let go saved him. And here he is, with us, with decades of memories, because he made the split-second decision to let go.
There are times in our lives when we need to take control, but there are times when something is so much bigger than us, we have to let go. We have to trust that we’ll be OK. There are things we simply cannot control. We do what we can do, but otherwise, we have to wait for the diving plane to correct itself.
Trusting isn’t ever easy. Trusting our leaders. Trusting doctors. Trusting media. Trusting different opinions and stories. Trusting data. Trusting governments. Trusting God.
My Hopeless List
If I’m feeling helpless and out of control, I make a list of everything that is bothering me. Then I go through the list and prioritize them. Which is going to make me feel the best if I can change it? Which thing on the list scares me the most?
After that, I mark the things I can control, the things where I can take some action, and the things I cannot control. Then I take massive, rapid action toward the things I can change, and I have to accept the other things I cannot control and get on my knees for the rest.
What is bothering you that you can’t control?
What can you control and where can you take action?
Do what you can for the things you can control, and trust the rest, because if you could control it, you would.
Many Versions of One Idea
There is a well-known prayer called the Serenity Prayer.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and wisdom to know the difference.
This prayer was written by American theologian Reingold Niebuhr (1892–1971) in 1932.
His full original version:
God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Before Niebuhr, there were others.
Greek philosopher Epictetus (50-135 AD) wrote:
Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us. Our opinions are up to us, and our impulses, desires, aversions — in short, whatever is our own doing. Our bodies are not up to us, nor are our possessions, our reputations, or our public offices, or, that is, whatever is not our own doing.
The 8th-century Indian Buddhist monk and scholar Shantideva said:
If there’s a remedy when trouble strikes,
What reason is there for dejection?
And if there is no help for it,
What use is there in being glum?
The 11th-century Jewish philosopher Solomon ibn Gabirol wrote:
At the head of all understanding — is realizing what is and what cannot be, and the consoling of what is not in our power to change.
Philosopher W. W. Bartley (1934-1990) made this rhyme:
For every ailment under the sun
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it;
If there be none, never mind it.
And last, in 1801, Friedrich Schiller said,
Blessed is he, who has learned to bear what he cannot change, and to give up with dignity, what he cannot save.
My best advice for personal peace at this strange time? Let go and trust what you cannot control.
There will be an end, and we will look back on these times in disbelief, and with some fondness, because in spite of the pain and angst, we will have grown, sifted our sand into a more refined form, and will be better off. It’s hard to see it now, but it’s around the corner.
The sun always sets and always returns.
Fall always comes, then winter, then spring and summer.
Patience, my friends.