Earlier this week I was invited to speak to a group of about 20 female attorneys from a leading global law firm. My topic: Resilience. (The other two speakers covered mentoring and negotiating.)
At first I was a bit perplexed as to why I was asked to speak on this topic, but after thinking about it, I realized that I actually am a bit of an expert of the subject. Here is why I say that: Just read my blog posts each week—I often talk about obstacles and challenges I have faced, and how I work my way through them. I think that is resilience.
When I started my remarks to the group, I started by saying, “You might think my success in life is due to me being lucky during my life.” I gave a little background on me and my company. You know the story—mom started our company 60 years ago. She introduced the kiwifruit to American consumers. I took over at age 30. I’m now living with the love of my life and am living happily ever after.
Then I spent the next 15 minutes recounting a few of the business happenings and personal challenges I have faced in my “lucky life.”
In 1993, while I was away on a business trip, we had an ammonia leak in our refrigerated warehouse and lost our entire inventory of produce (over $1 million). Fortunately, we were able to evacuate the building promptly so no one was injured, and our insurance policy covered our loss 100%. However, during the two days we were recovering and replacing our inventory, our competitor called one of our biggest clients and told them we went out of business! We lost that client’s business permanently. Lucky?
A few years later, one of our largest clients did a dramatic pivot in their purchasing patterns (without warning) and we lost about 35% of our business volume overnight. We lost millions of dollars over the next couple of years as I attempted to “right size” our business. Lucky?
And then in my personal life, I shared that I have been married and divorced three times. Lucky?
It was a difficult journey, but I finally concluded that it was better I not ever marry again and live the rest of my life as a single woman. Of course, about two-and-a-half years ago, I had our annual dinner with my longtime business friend (who was also single after his wife of 47 years passed away). Our annual “catch up” dinner ended with a (surprise) kiss and we have been together ever since, living our lives together, as if we are married (but we are not).
Those three stories are just a few of my experiences I chose to share. And I then divulged to the group how I got through it all:
“Focus on that which you have control over.”
Instead of having a pity-party for myself each and every time I had a monumentally difficult situation, I would review the following thoughts in my head:
- Do I want to be liked or do I want to be respected?It took me a while to understand and accept that being respected was most important. I could not win a popularity contest and be a successful business owner.
- How I do anything is how I do everything. My business coach pointed out some bad habits I had developed. Because I am willing to honestly be introspective, I realized that my bad habits in my business life were the same bad habits I had developed in my personal life. It took a lot of courage to admit this, but once I did, I found myself repeating this to both myself and to others as a reminder. How I do any ANYTHING is how I do EVERYTHING.
- I ask myself in difficult situations: What is the worst that can happen? Literally, I go to the worst place in my head. For example, when my partner Jack was diagnosed with melanoma cancer 18 months ago, I went to the worst place. And the worst place was: Jack would die tomorrow. I would be alone. Where would I live? Of course, Jack is alive and well and thriving, but thinking about the “worst” place forced me to realize how ridiculous my fears were. And going to the extreme really can be a wake-up call that the reality will likely be significantly more positive.
So, as I finished up my presentation, I asked for questions or comments. One of the more senior leaders present said this, “We are so lucky to have Karen talk with us today. She is living proof that the smile you see on a successful business person’s face does not mean everything is perfect. It shows you that we all have challenges that we work through every day. And we get through them. Even if at the moment they seem daunting and impossible, we get through them.
Yes, Karen showed us how to focus on that which we have control over. She showed us the face of resilience.”
So, the next time you are facing a difficult situation, whether at work or at home, consider these thoughts:
- Do I want to be liked or be respected?
- How I do anything is how I do everything.
- What is the worst that can happen?