The house is rattling as though bombs were going off nearby. Flashes of light are frequent and get more in sync with the thunder as the storm closes in. Pellets fall upon the tin roof above the old porch, making a deafening sound, and water streams everywhere around me except for this one dry spot.
When I was about 8, I visited Tennessee with my grandparents, and we were at Aunt Maxine’s farmhouse. Staring out the window at a storm, I heard a loud CRACK that shook the ground, and I could not believe my wide eyes. The thick old oak in front of the house was instantly split in half, just a few feet from my window. For perhaps the first time, I had a realization of the power of storms, and just how fleeting life can be.
I can remember being afraid of storms as a child. Growing up in Indiana, tornadoes were a fact of life, and their devastation was beyond anything I could fully comprehend. As a child I was a worrier; I had ulcers because I worried so much, and I was totally afraid I was going to be a tornado magnet. Every time I’d hear the alerts on WOWO radio, we would all go to a corner of the house, or in later days to the basement, awaiting our destruction. It was frightening.
Then one day, for some reason, as clarity came, I realized just how silly my fear of storms was. I had moved out of the tornado zone, and though I was not going to walk in the wide-open spaces waiting for lightning to hit, in one moment in time, my perspective switched and my fear went away.
Today, sitting here in the midst of a fierce storm, I have the strength and perspective to respect it but not fear it. Instead of fear, I am comforted by the loud rumbling of thunder, and I am encouraged by the nourishment the buckets of rain bring. And often storms blow away the pollen and bring cleaner air.
Once my fear went away, I could enjoy the show.
Storms Serve a Great Purpose
I’ve found that in life, and in business, there is a need for storms. I learned a good lesson a couple of decades ago. In the radio industry, a new leader came into an organization that promotes radio. Though I liked him very much, and got to be friends with him, others thought he was brash, somewhat arrogant and obnoxious, and a little harsh.
Because I was always writing about people like him for my radio magazine, I asked him about it. His reply made me realize his true importance and his perspective.
He told me he made his living as a hired gun. He was hired by the board to clean up a mess that had been built up over decades of management problems. The organization had become filled with people who expected to be paid yet did little. There were too many staff members for the mission of the organization, and there was a lot of legacy of “the way we do things around here” and not a lot of innovation. The organization was fat, tired, lazy, and set in its ways. His job, he told me, was to clean things up.
At first, I could not understand why they hired this guy. He was a bit of an embarrassment to the organization when he spoke at conferences and events. He did not have the gentle, presidential feel other leaders had had. Instead he was brash, loud, and boisterous.
Saving the Day
But the role he played saved the organization. Once he had done his job, he moved on. He told me, “I’m here to do one thing. I have no intention to stay on to operate things. Once I’ve got things cleaned up and I do all the unpopular things no one else wants to do, once I have the team rebuilt and the money under control, I’ll be gone.”
And that is exactly what happened. It took him several years to get things under control, get rid of the deadwood and hire stronger and better people, and get things back to normal. He was the storm.
Storms Are Everywhere
Over my career I’ve seen storms come into companies, into churches, into politics and other organizations. Their role is to clean things up and get things under control, and do a great reset.
How Storms Work
Cleanup people start with a learning period. They come in to get to know the people, to know the organization, and to understand things in depth. That takes time. Then, in spite of the friendships they’ve made, they start trimming trees and removing the dead wood. Firings occur, and retirements are implemented. Then these people move into a reinvention phase. They start to train those who are keepable and willing to learn and grow, and they bring new people in. They clean up the books, stop the reckless spending, and refocus the organization on its core mission. And once everything is under control and proven to be operating well, the storm clears out, the air is fresh and clean, there’s no more thunder, and the sun returns.
An Insider’s Perspective
Had I not gotten to know this guy, I’d not have understood the storm in advance. I had no idea how screwed up things were. I only knew how things appeared from the outside. Once I understood, it made perfect sense. There are people to this day who think this man was a loud, obnoxious, clumsy hack, never seeing that he saved the organization and its future.
That’s why I’m always talking about being willing to embrace adversity — because there is always a silver lining to every storm.
Storms come into our lives in many ways. Sometimes there are phases in our lives where we have to become our own storm. Sometimes others can’t do it for us, but we can.
I can recall moments in my life where things were not going as well as I hoped. I had friends who were not good for me, who did things that were not up to my standards of ethics, yet I continued to hang out with them because they were friends. But there came a point when I realized (with the help of my wife in many cases) that these were people who did not contribute to my life. Instead, like branches that needed to be pruned, they took too much energy. They were not healthy relationships.
Not “You’re Fired”
Did I pick up the phone and say, “You’re out of my life”? No, I’d never be that unkind. I simply called less and less and then we grew apart and I disappeared. Though I was drawn to them, maybe because it was exciting or because they did things I would never do, I came to a point where I knew they were not good for me. And though I loved them, I knew if I kept talking to them or spending time with them, it would continue to be toxic. So I just had to go cold turkey and discontinue.
Do you need storms in your life?
Do you see the need for storms in your family, in your work or business, or in your community?
Are there storm-makers you’ve seen, and you never before understood that their purpose was to blow out the dead wood and do a reset?
As a child afraid of storms, I did not have the balance to understand just how important storms are to the earth. Once I flipped the switch in my mind and embraced storms instead of fearing them, I started to enjoy them.
What switches do you need to flip?
What things frighten or bother you?
What would happen if you changed your perspective and tried to imagine why storms could be good for you?
Being human, I tend to cling to my old ways. I’m stubborn, and I often don’t see how changing my perspective is not giving up my identity. Yet flipping the switch to see things differently always serves me well, and takes away the fear.
The Switch Is On
There are times when I can’t flip a switch, when I can’t seem to find another perspective, when things look dark and frightening, and in those cases I simply have to tell myself that God is in control. What’s the worst that can happen then? It seems to make everything better.
2020 was a storm. It blew through and changed everything. Your world changed. Your circumstances and possibly your income changed. It was hugely frightening. Yet, in many ways, it made our lives better. There may be some more storms in 2021, but soon, it will have blown through, and the light will emerge from the dark and ominous clouds.
Have faith. Embrace storms.