Courage: In the Eye of the Beholder

Many excellent speakers provide compelling motivational keynotes about overcoming adversity, but that isn’t my calling. My mission has long been to be a positive force for economic development and helping midsized companies continue to grow. The invitation to write an article about being courageous did bring a specific moment to mind.

While I was still wearing a surgical collar and sling following spinal surgeries, I stood in disbelief at the side of my car smashed in my parking spot.  The other driver was obviously distracted by earlier events of the day.  At home, my husband was expecting a return call from an oncologist about treatment options for his recently diagnosed advanced stage bone marrow cancer.  The date was September 11, 2001.

Through it all, and contrary to most peoples’ projections, astounding medical bills have somehow been paid, my wonderful employees have stayed, dozens of my clients have defied the odds and achieved profitable rapid growth, hosting a weekly Internet radio program has been added to my mix, IBM named me the “lead instructor” for their “Owners and Presidents” program, and I was recently named to the inaugural class of NJ’s 50 Best Women in Business.  Most importantly, my husband has been in remission for three years.

We have not felt courageous – determined maybe, but not courageous.

Here are a few things we learned.

1. Don’t expect to feel courageous during the height of a crisis.  Don’t be surprised if you just feel scared, overwhelmed, ill prepared, tired, empty, or surprised at how upset other people seem when you feel okay.

2.  Do expect that many people will tell you to quit and scratch their heads in disbelief if you do try to continue to take care of your clients.  Don’t expect to ever know if you made the right decision to keep working (as I did) or stop (as most people would have done).

3.  Don’t expect that the help you need will just magically show up but don’t be surprised at how many people will extend a helping hand if you are truly needy.

4.  Do expect that you won’t know when the crisis is actually behind you.  Do expect multiple mini-crises:  health problems breed money problems which breed vendor and employee problems which breed confidence and marketing problems, etc.

5.  Do expect that you might not feel that you have permission to laugh while you are going through something so serious.  Laughter has the power to heal and sharing a laugh is not disrespectful.

6.  Do expect that your sense of time will become distorted when daily tasks take much longer to accomplish. Do utilize phone trees, social media, and e-mail to keep key people informed and engaged.

7.  Do expect that you will need to repeatedly reassure others even when you are uncertain about what is yet to come.

8.  Do select and practice gracious phrases.  Life threatening illness and injury compels many people to express strong, often unsolicited opinions about faith, treatment options, and the causes of illness and injury.

9.  Do expect that you will regret confiding in some people and wonder why you weren’t more candid with others. Do expect that some people will feel the need to withdraw.

10.  Do expect the marketplace to have a long memory retaining the misimpression that you are not available long after you are.  Do get on the phone and invest in marketing to replace negative images with positive ones.

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