by Kevin Warren
Our 2016 chapter is unfinished, but it’s no secret that it’s already characterized by unpredictability and disorder. Many of us find ourselves on the cusp of big changes – the highly dynamic environment that is our business, political and even personal life – demands it. We are constantly reminded that we can’t control the nature of the changes we face, but we can control how we react or respond to them.
Most recently I drew inspiration from the Olympic athletes in Rio as we watched and listened to stories of how they persevered through the unthinkable – unthinkable competition, unthinkable mistakes or injuries, even unthinkable survival of a war-torn life – to compete, master, win.
The notion of preparing for and confronting the unthinkable is best described by Joshua Cooper Ramo in his must-read book, “The Age of the Unthinkable”:
“What’s unthinkable about our era is that we are trying to manage constant newness with ideas that are ceaselessly failing,” he wrote. “It’s easy to look around the world today and see the challenges we are facing, and be frankly terrified by our inability to confront them. But having an unstable future doesn’t just mean that we have a scary future, it also means that there is a possibility for spectacular invention and innovation.
“The real lesson in the age of the unthinkable is that, unlike in the past where individuals were simply victims of history, we now live in an age where it is possible to do something really unthinkable: To allow average individuals to have a meaningful impact on history. The obligation of this historic moment, for all of us, is not simply to sit and watch as history collides with our lives, but instead to step forward and use our lives to change history.”
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The unthinkable is happening. We are prudent to prepare to endure it, embrace it, and benefit from it. How? The Olympic athletes summoned all of their resources – mental, physical, and spiritual – to confront the unthinkable and emerge unconquerable. We should all be so resilient.
William Ernest Henley is another inspiration of mine when it comes to resilience. Afflicted with tuberculosis as a child, his leg was amputated directly below the knee when he was 12. He persevered and survived, and lived an active life until age 53. At 26, he wrote a profound poem from his hospital bed. It is aptly titled, “Invictus” which means “unconquerable” in Latin.
“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
“Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
“It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.”
It espouses one of my core beliefs – that no matter what the circumstance I am the master of my own destiny. And so are you. Resolve to do the unthinkable. Success is not a matter of chance, but rather a matter of choice.
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So let’s be clear. When the unthinkable is knocking at your door, change is coming up the driveway. You can either invite it in or try to lock it out. But one thing is for sure, it will find a place at your table. People — like strong countries, empires and companies — must be able to renew themselves in times of challenge; herein opportunity is unleashed and the unthinkable achieved.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.