This artwork hangs above the desk in my home office. It was created by Josh Montueaux, an artist who faced a stage 4 cancer diagnosis and qualified for a trial drug designed to temporarily stabilize tumor growth for roughly six months. Today, nine years later, Josh is still on the trial drug while creating art that celebrates humanity. My connection to Josh was serendipitous; The Bruce Lee piece caught my eye during a first-and-only visit to a coffee shop that closed for good two days later. At the time, I was 18 months into a failed entrepreneurial leap as a 41-year old father with three kids under eight years old. The combination of Josh’s story + Bruce Lee’s message resonated deeply given my fragile state of mind. Inspired by my great-grandmother’s courageous life that preserved the legacy of a 1200-year old Shinto Shrine and a family on both sides of World War II; I had made the decision to depart from conventional wisdom, forge a new path, and pivot my change management firm toward the Japanese concept of “ikigai.”
In 18 months, I had gone from a Director role at a Global Financial Services Firm to some guy trying to help organizations, teams, and people maximize the power of purpose. It was chaos.
Friday, March 13, 2020 was an overwhelming day. It was difficult to process everything. Like most people around the world, my wife and I scrambled to establish structure in our home while immersing ourselves into news cycles filled with unthinkable headlines. That afternoon, I glanced up and saw Josh’s art….then went right back to the media…I couldn’t pull myself away. For the next four days, I sat beneath Bruce Lee while pouring through the chaotic jaw-dropping news.
Finally, on St Patrick’s Day, I pumped the brakes to call my Irish-American mother which broke the cycle and gave me pause. I looked up, saw Bruce Lee’s quote and thought about Josh’s story. It helped me reset, begin to move out of the fog, and realize that social media distancing was just as important to my well-being as social distancing was to my health.
Right now, there are a lot of unknowns with some scary stuff happening out there, especially for those facing serious health and/or financial challenges. I’m not blind to it, nor suggesting that anyone bury their head in the sand. For those fortunate to be beyond those serious challenges, it’s important to note that within the chaos lies opportunity.
Control the Controllables
This concept, adapted from Karl Rohnke, provides a framework for self-awareness. Leading up to St Patty’s Day, I found myself operating in the panic zone driven by a fluid, shifting definition of “comfort.” No school. No events. No travel. Living in Seattle seemed to amplify everything.
It’s now safe to assume that everyone in the world is currently operating outside of their comfort zone in some form. If you’re fortunate to find yourself without serious health or financial difficulties, then what steps can you take to navigate this challenging landscape? Three considerations:
- First, acknowledge that you’ve been unwillingly pushed out of your comfort zone: This simple recognition can empower you to redirect time, energy, and mental calories that are inefficiently preserving a comfort zone that no longer exists.
- Next, embrace the fact that you have control over where you draw the boundary between the Growth and Panic Zones. Your mindset is a powerful tool right now. Periodically check-in with yourself (and others) and ask two questions:
1)Am I operating in the Growth Zone or the Panic Zone?
2)What’s one action that I can take to stay in the Growth Zone?
- Last, approach each day with an optimistic, positive mindset. Connect with friends and family. Moderate your news intake.
Being mindful of the boundary between growth and panic while maintaining a positive mindset can help reclaim agency and improve well-being. As we adjust to a new normal, it’s important to remind ourselves that growth only comes through a departure from the comfortable: It’s the foundation of innovation. Viewing this historical inflection point through the lens of personal innovation can help reframe the threat into an opportunity to reflect, take inventory, and recalibrate.
On the Ikigai Stories Podcast, Josh says, “time is a commodity…the less you have of it, the more it’s worth.” We’re living in volatile times that force us to face some harsh realities, including our own mortality. That reality opens a window to identify the true priorities in life…not the money or the job or the influence…but the relationships, the experiences, and finding the best in ourselves and others. Amidst the chaos exists clarity into what matters most.
Although the temptation of panic is increasingly more present, maintaining possession of your perspective is a powerful tool that is directly linked to your decisions and actions. Said differently, if you want to find depth and despair, it’s out there, but if you want to find optimism and hope, it’s out there too. Positivity is abundant and provides an important bridge to the Growth Zone. Whenever possible, please choose this path.
The road ahead isn’t going to be easy. But when we emerge from this crisis, the roadmap to live with #purposeonpurpose will be anchored by a collective, renewed sense of intention. We’ll get there. Stay positive. Stay safe.