As a Millennial entrepreneur, I've had the luxury of running a business in a strong economy. I launched a public relations agency in 2012 after transitioning from my first career as a TV news reporter. So, when the Covid-19 pandemic forced the majority of my clients' companies to close, I found myself in my first real business crisis.
During that first month, while pivoting my business and juggling young kids at home, I read the New York Times best-selling book Fortitude: American Resilience in the Era of Outrage, by former Navy SEAL turned congressman Dan Crenshaw.
Now, I'm pretty sure Crenshaw didn't intend for his book to serve as an entrepreneur's survival guide for weathering a major crisis. But it turns out, the lessons and strategies he shares from his intense SEAL training and on the battlefield also apply to increasing your mental fortitude to withstand challenges in business and in life. The following are the strategies he shared that stood out to me.
Employ the 'get to' strategy.
It's easy to see all the situations we "have to" endure during challenging times. Crenshaw shares a strategy to reframe your mindset when faced with hardships from the mentality of "I have to" to "I get to."
This simple shift in perspective will take you from feeling like a helpless victim of your life's circumstances to owning your situation and taking back control.
So for me, it looks like this:
I don't have to lose 80 percent of clients that are shutdown because of a pandemic. I get to rebuild my business intentionally, in a way that better aligns with my goals and values while gaining the incredible experience--and facing down the challenge--of growth.
I don't have to struggle to homeschool my children. I get to deepen my relationship with them and to be a bigger part of their daily development and learning than was possible while I worked from an office.
You can take any negative or decidedly unfair circumstance you are facing and choose to see the positive.
Sweat the small stuff.
While we've all heard the tired advice "Don't sweat the small stuff," Crenshaw encourages the exact opposite. "If you allow yourself to sweat the small stuff, then you must try your hardest not to sweat the big stuff," he wrote.
His theory (and one that I have unofficially validated over the years as a mom and business owner) is that venting about daily frustrations is healthy and perhaps even therapeutic. He especially encourages the sarcastic, petty complaining over the small and often silly tribulations.
Crenshaw uses the example of a SEAL's obsession with dry socks. In the big picture of life and death, dry socks may seem like a frivolous thing to have angst over. But Crenshaw's point is that it helps relieve a little of the pent-up frustration and stress that typically builds and can have more dire consequences overtime.
For the rest of us, it could be a rude customer service complaint or a parking ticket or a bad haircut. Give trivial matters a solid moment of frustration if you feel the urge, and then move on.
If there is one thing 2020 has taught me as an entrepreneur, it's that we can't control or avoid difficult times, but we can prepare our minds to better handle it.
Crenshaw wrote that voluntary suffering is a building block for spiritual health and mental toughness. While he's able to draw on his intense training as a Navy SEAL, during which he endured its infamous Hell Week not once, but twice, after suffering an injury, the strategy applies to everyday people who want to become high performers.
The basic idea is that you create little routines and habits of discomfort and manufactured hardship. Just as exercise will strengthen your muscles, voluntary suffering will strengthen your mind to become more resilient to the looming, very real challenges ahead.
What merits an "uncomfortable habit" will vary person to person, but a good place to start is physical activity. There is a reason people pay good money to CrossFit gyms so they may voluntarily endure physical pain--and therefore personal victory.
Set a big goal and then give yourself a limited amount of time to achieve it. Few things are more frustrating than trying to achieve a goal at an excruciating slow pace.
Not sure where to start? Try a cold morning shower. That 30 seconds as the water transitions from warm to freezing will give you an extra jolt of energy and renewed sense of accomplishment and discipline to start the day.
While we may not be able to predict the next natural disaster, global pandemic, or other challenge that will impact our businesses, we can prepare our minds to better survive it.
Crenshaw wrote that "perspective from darkness, perseverance in the face of adversity, purpose through action, and optimism in the face of failure" are a prescription for a happier life. I'd add, for a healthier and more resilient business, too.