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Life has been a bit hectic lately between setbacks, challenges, and unwanted surprises (sick dog, new business losses, expensive home repairs, among others). In these moments, it's easy to start feeling bad or imagining the worst future outcome as much as I know these thoughts won't help. Then, I think of the mantra American businessman Les Schwab repeats throughout his book, Les Schwab: Pride In Performance - Keep it Going! — life is hard.
Les Schwab grew up during the Great Depression and had to drop out of school at age 15 to support his family. He started working in the tire industry in the 1940s and eventually saved enough money to start a business in 1952. He went on to build Les Schwab Tire Centers, a successful and profitable business known for its comprehensive employee profit-sharing program. Schwab's story is one of hard work, determination, and dedication to himself and others — regardless of what got in the way.
Schwab doesn't use this mantra to wallow in setbacks, failures, or challenges; he's acknowledging that life is full of hurdles. Life is hard is a call to action to keep going and stay positive.
I'd be lying if I said staying positive was always easy for me in the face of setbacks or challenges. Activities like journaling, reading a book, working out, and taking my dog Gizmo for a walk have helped clear my head and improve my attitude. I know letting the situation get me down or stress me out won't get me anywhere.
In the book Essentialism, author Greg McKeown talks about how stress works against us when we're trying to move ahead.
"Play is an antidote to stress, and this is key because stress, in addition to being an enemy of productivity, can actually shut down the creative, inquisitive, exploratory parts of our brain. You know how it feels: you’re stressed about work and suddenly everything starts going wrong. You can’t find your keys, you bump into things more easily, you forget the critical report on the kitchen table."
If you read between the lines, McKeown suggests stress is a choice. When we have a lot on our plate and things aren't working out, we can choose to be overwhelmed. Or we can do something about it. When we choose stress, we let other areas of our lives fall apart.
McKeown defines play as "anything we do simply for the joy of doing rather than as a means to an end." In that way, when we get stuck on an outcome, anything but reaching it feels like failure. Instead, finding joy in the journey and accepting the unpredictability along the way opens our minds to new perspectives, experiments, and ideas. It's often play that turns our situation around.
With everything going on last week, it felt good to pause and choose not to get stressed, focusing on staying positive, getting creative, and taking a new step forward. Whether at work or home, it's been energizing to prioritize tough decisions, take risks with experiments, and think differently about what it takes to make progress.
Where am I choosing stress and letting it take me off track?