In the Eye of the Storm: How Challenges Can Propel Us

Career columnist Liz Bentley on the importance of using pain points as ways to grow. 

In my work, I'm constantly helping clients work through "the storm" in their lives, both personally and professionally. What I call the storm is the hard parts of our lives-the people, projects, issues, and environment that make us struggle.

It's common to look at the storm in other people's lives and think they just need to be more resilient, have grit, and make a change. But when the storm descends on us, we get enveloped by darkness. We get scared, feel pain, and want it to go away as quickly as possible.

It's far too easy and instinctual for us to find fault in people

From my perspective as a coach, however, the storm is a gift and has come to tell us something very important. It's not to be ignored but embraced because it can be our moment to rise.

Avoid a "fight or flight" response.

People usually have two very distinct responses to the storm: they either turn in to fight it or run and take cover. When they fight, they look at the problem from their own perspective and address it head-on, usually trying to move as fast as possible. When they run, they reduce its importance and try to calm the problem or flat out hide from it by pretending it isn't happening. And in most cases, neither response will work.

Instead, understand the storm.

A problem can present itself in many ways. Sometimes it's abrupt and obvious, while other times it's slow and imperceptible. As a coach, I can often identify the storm from miles away when a person comes to coaching complaining of the different pains they are feeling in their lives. Their pain is not necessarily a direct link to the real problem but a symptom that will eventually manifest into a challenge.

Turn to face it.

When you're in the midst of a storm, here's how to face it so you can rise to the next level in your life.

  • Let go of your version of the truth. We all have our own perception of what's happening. But the way we see our truth is clouded and not always an accurate depiction of the whole story. To see the full picture, you have to let go of your own view and see others' views and perspectives.
  • Stop blaming others. Usually we feel there is someone else creating the problem, and if that person were out of the picture or sidelined the problem would go away. While a person can be the problem, there is usually something for you to learn from the experience. It's far too easy and instinctual for us to find fault in people, especially someone who is causing us, and perhaps others, a disruption. So make sure you aren't falling into this pitfall as you strive to understand your own challenges.
  • Stop justifying your position. Resist the urge to look for evidence that proves you're right, especially by going to people who support your opinion. This will not help you grow or solve the real problem. It keeps you buried in it.
  • Stop making excuses. Your behavior is in your control. If someone or something triggers you, it's your fault, not theirs. You own your triggers, and even if the situation is affecting others as well, don't join the bandwagon. It's your responsibility to rise regardless of the situation.

Take the opportunity to grow.

The storm gives us time to reflect and see where we need to grow. It points out all of our triggers and pokes us awake to our sensitivities and unhealed wounds. All of that learning is lost if we focus on the issue or the person causing us pain. The more we reframe our thinking of the storm, seeing it instead as a message to dig into our struggles, the easier it becomes to tackle. This is a critical mindset shift that can change not just our work lives but our whole lives.

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