How Do Hard Times Serve Us?

Copyright Hildy Gottlieb 1993

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
Winston Churchill

After my daughter was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease several years ago, we went from doctor to doctor, seeking relief. One of those doctors had been going through his own transformation (he has since entirely given up his lucrative medical practice to become a holistic healer).

Lizzie was too young to even consider the question that doctor asked her at age 17, but he asked it anyway. “How does the illness serve?”

When she didn’t understand what he meant, he clarified. “We know how the illness harms you. What will help you come to grips with the illness is to determine how it serves you.”

I keep thinking of that question as we face these very hard economic times. How are these tough times serving our organizations and our communities?

What possibilities are presenting themselves?  What are you seeing?  What is changing?

How can these hard times serve us?

11 Responses to How Do Hard Times Serve Us?

  1. What I have seen is that the economy is a distraction. While markets have changed we humans have remained the same. I think people still want their lives to matter, be of value. In my world, the nonprofit sector, we need to remember that of all the things that truly matter, those have remained constant. Great post

  2. Omigosh, there are a million benefits to be had from hardship. Limitations make the most intense creativity possible. How does being laid off, losing my retirement, not being able to get credit serve? If nothing else, these things serve to tell us we are not in control – and from there, the sky’s the limit in terms of personal growth.

  3. These difficulties create clarity and innovation. Suddenly, all the tangential programs that were never central to a nonprofit’s mission are exposed. And hopefully they’re given a pleasant funeral. These times are great times to round up all those sacred cows and hold a big BBQ! When the easy solution of throwing money at a problem is no longer an option, thinking outside the box becomes the norm. These times feel like good times to me.

    Recently had a discussion with a nonprofit client who was able to use this new reality to help with his problem of a bloated staff (a payroll assessment not a weight assessment). These times gave his board the courage it previously lacked to approve the resource realignment that had been on the table for a year. His organization will now grow.

    Oh, and sadly, these times also bring panic and hand wringing–but I recommend cutting back on network news–that seems to help a lot.

  4. Jay:
    Yes, of course! The constant is that we do want our lives to matter. Mary and Steve – yes to creativity and innovation (and thanks for the Seth Godin goodie!).

    Such times do, of course, suggest interesting ways to cut back. I also see something perhaps more intriguing – folks trying to find innovative ways to move forward, to accomplish what the community needs in a more integrated fashion. Would be curious if others have seen that as well?

  5. I agree with Steve regarding clarity and innovation. The tough times can be a tremendous opportunity to hone the vision for our community and look at new ways to get there. I’m beginning to see this dynamic as some of our area’s organizations. If the focus can be on “how do we continue to move toward our vision” instead of just “where do we cut”, the tough times are actually an impetus for growth.

    That being said, tough times do also require organizations to look at issues like mission drift, outdated processes and staffing patterns that no longer fit the future vision. While not always comfortable, cleaning one’s organizational house can be energizing!

  6. I am seeing clients thinking truly strategically about their work in ways I haven’t seen before… really asking “what difference does this make?” They’re more open to discussing what they envision for their communities and world.

    When people say that our planning processes can’t progress because we don’t know what the future holds, it’s possible to say “Regardless of the economy, our highest intentions for the community remain the same. We need to remain flexible in considering options to get there.”

  7. This week I watched a C-Span interview with Maya Angelou. Someone in the audience asked her what her favorite prayer was. Her simple answer was “Thank You.” During these tough times an attitude of graditute helps us to see more clearly; to look past the difficulty and see the opportunity. It is not always easy to speak these words of universal power – thank you, thank you, thank you. Try it.

  8. Nancy:
    Yes! The focus on “honing the vision for our community and looking at new ways to get there” is so powerful!

    And Elizabeth:
    These are such energizing words: “our highest intentions for the community remain the same.” I will be most anxious to hear what creative approaches those groups find for reaching for those aspirations.


  9. Hildy,

    I don’t know what Lizzie’s autoimmune disorder is; however, I have fibromyalgia. I was diagnosed with it about 13 years ago, but I honestly feel I’ve had it my entire life. At any rate, because I tire so easily, for most of my adult life, I’ve just worked part-time. By working part-time, I’ve been able to be more involved in the community that I otherwise would, had I worked full-time. I truly look at my fibromyalgia as a gift.

    Rebecca Henderson