Hardship and Duress

“Hardship can turn out to be a great blessing, and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. Humans don’t mind duress; in fact, they thrive on it. What they mind is not feeling necessary or valued for their contribution…”  – Sebastian Junger

A good friend of mine shared this quote with me last week, and for some reason it really struck a cord. Not that I am dealing with more hardship or duress than anyone else. Then again, it seems challenges lurk in every corner and at every turn.

Some of my fondest memories come from times in my youth when such challenges existed. The soccer games we lost against our biggest rivals in our run for state, only after months of grueling practice. The many car wrecks I had (yes, I was a horrible driver), and working two jobs to pay off the damages.

I remember my first job working in my step-father’s boat shop in La Porte TX. It was a horrible job – ripping out decking and rotted transoms, sanding gelcoat, pulling cable and wiring through seams and crevasses that tore my knuckles to pieces. Wearing long sleeve shirts, pants, boots, and dust masks in the heat of the summer to avoid the itch of ground fiberglass getting in your pores. There was nothing fun about that job.

I remember my first two years in public accounting, and the required 55-hour minimum work weeks that always accompanied our busy season. As a new “grunt” at Ernst & Young, I recall being given the worst assignments possible – because that’s what you did when you were a rookie in the “Big Six”.

I remember working with my management teams to overcome the difficulties of economic hardship created after the economic slowdown after 9/11, and even worse, managing the business through the crash of 2008. Those were incredibly difficult times, watching our billable headcount drop to precipitous levels, nearly busting bank covenants, and making the difficult decisions on cutting costs.

I remember losing one of the largest MSP contracts ever to hit the market. I still recall countless hours put in to that bid, in client presentations, building pricing models, and negotiating with the client, all to receive that dreadful call saying we came in second place.

I remember…

The point is simple – Some of my fondest memories come in reflection of past struggles, of the hard work and effort put in to those efforts, and in the recognition and reflection of how I/we handled those circumstances. And in each case, I came out better.

Losing games to our top rival made us work harder to become better soccer players. Working in my father’s boat shop taught me the value of hard work. The months of busy season taught me the importance of doing what’s necessary to complete the job. Navigating difficult financial conditions taught me the reality of economic cycles. And losing big sales pursuits taught me how to win others later in life (PS – we won that same large client 3 years later).
Hardship and difficulty surrounds us every day. It’s a fact of life. For most of us, we don’t shy away from it. We face those challenges with courage, determination, and persistence. And with time, we look back on it as a reminder of the power created through our struggles with hardship and duress.

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