It happens almost without fail. In fact, it's become so predictable, enticing, and entertaining that I could no longer ignore it. What is it?
It's the perception that leaders, successful entrepreneurs, and generally happy people hold about "the good stuff" in their life and career. And, ironically, it's the fact that "the good stuff" happened in times when they struggled most--to overcome a hurdle, start a company, launch an idea, or even deal with a difficult culture.
"I couldn't figure out why I wasn't growing," Ray DelMuro, founder of Refresh Glass, recently told me. Refresh Glass is a company that turns old wine bottles into glassware for restaurants and hotels. "It was the lack of movement that forced me to think differently, and that good stuff helped us pivot."
DelMuro is talking about discovering a philosophy of business that changed his business. But he's not alone. In all the interviews I've conducted throughout the world with leaders, founders, and thought leaders, I've heard countless stories about the good stuff--meaning the days when a team sat on pickle buckets because the company couldn't afford chairs, or the big breaks that were created when, in tough times, someone rolled up their sleeves, got dirty, and made a game-changing deal.
"I remember the power being turned off because we couldn't afford to pay the bill," Sheldon Harris, former president of Cold Stone Creamery told me. "There was a time when every day felt like it could be our last. It was scary. But we knew we had something. And, looking back, that's the stuff that gives you grit."
Today, Harris coaches CEOs around the world through a company adequately named CEO Coaching International. And, I would imagine, he's told that story quite a few times as he teaches others to embrace painful challenges as opportunities for growth.
But it's not just entrepreneurs who view the times when they were challenged as the good stuff. Most of us, as employees or being self-employed, can tell stories about how the times of struggle have often been some of the most rewarding memories of our lives and careers so far.
Amy Hunn of Floyd's 99 Barbershop recalls the day she applied for a secretarial position with the company. "I just needed a job," she told me. "But I loved the idea. I loved the owners. And I look back at those early days of falling in love with the company, the potential, and the growth, as the good stuff."
Established in 1999, Floyd's 99 has now grown to 121 shops in the United States. And Amy has risen up the corporate ladder to become VP of construction and facilities.
No matter how many people I interview, I always ask about "the good stuff." I've heard and seen plenty of emotion when people reflect on their days of being scrappy, scratching for a better future, and overcoming obstacles. Some stories are recent. Some stories span decades. But all stories include a moment when a person believed so much in what they were doing that the things we typically see as "the bad stuff"--financial struggle, opposition, exhaustion, and frustration--become secondary and eventually become good stuff.
How can you create more "good stuff" in your life no matter what challenges you face today?
1. Realize that success lives in the present tense.
It's easy to admire others who have reached a certain level of success. However, we rarely admire all the challenges and hard times they faced to get there. Their success was achieved not when they reached their goal, but in all the days, nights, and hours they struggled to get there. And the same is true with you. Your success is dependent on what you do today.
2. Accept challenges as teaching moments rather than setbacks.
While we may want to dismiss certain struggles in our lives and careers as mere setbacks, it's important to understand what those moments are teaching us. They often force us out of our comfort zone. They force us to look at new options. They can frustrate us, embarrass us, and deflate us. And that's OK, as long as we learn from them, pick ourselves back up, and proceed forward.
3. Recognize the "good stuff" from your past and in the people around you today.
Most of us can reflect on times in our lives that were so challenging that they forced us to change for the better. And when we recall these moments, we can look back with a bit of pride that says, "Look what I survived, overcame, and conquered." But, in saying that, it's important to recognize the struggles the people around you might be going through. Everyone who becomes a success story started with just a dream and pockets full of challenges to make that dream a reality. Give people encouragement on their way to the top.
It's not always the rewards of our efforts that make us most proud. Instead, it's the struggle you overcome to find them. Think about that on your next step up.