It’s not what happens to us but how we respond that matters


11/8/20234 min read

water drops on water base
water drops on water base

In the past 3 months, I’ve buried three members of my family. No one has died in the past 11 years, and suddenly, I was faced with multiple deaths. I thought: is this what is meant by “when it rains, it pours?” My elderly uncle was very active in planning his sister’s funeral, only to die one week later. My niece died suddenly a month later. This situation made me think about life itself - how we can be cruising along, oblivious of what lies ahead, yet our lives can change in an instant.

In business, the same obtains. We can be working to grow our business when suddenly a key contractor goes into administration with thousands of pounds outstanding to us. What happens if, around the same time, we experience some dramatic natural disaster which our insurance doesn’t cover or a piece of legislation is passed that adversely impacts our company? Take, for example, the ban on smoking in pubs and the plan in the UK to raise the legal age of smoking every year by a year so that eventually, no one can buy tobacco.

It is not unheard of for businesses to go through phases when everything seems to be going wrong. To deal with this occurrence, some organisations seek to diversify, some scale down their operations, others implement strategies to increase their market share, and sadly, some curl up and die. I dare not say the strong survive or the weak give up, for who am I to judge? People have their respective pain thresholds, and while some will find it easier to take their own lives than to face the music, others will pick themselves up and keep going. An interesting Ghanaian proverb says: “If things are getting easier, maybe you're headed downhill.” Perhaps we should always expect challenges and put buffers and contingency measures in place.

In life, we encounter many challenges; indeed, challenges litter our path – we start school, study, sit exams, apply for jobs, go for interviews, fail interviews, work with people, juggle work and family life, go through illnesses – the list goes on. We learn to cope with the demands of an ever-changing world and develop skills that we pass on to generations. In the usual scheme of things, it is a complete cycle; we enter the world helpless and leave almost the same way, thus “once a man, twice a child”.

Business, too, has its fair share of challenges. As business people, we go through recessions; we encounter excessive regulation and bureaucracy; we experience environmental and social pressures; we have competition not only in our vicinity but on an international scale; we find gatekeepers bent on keeping us out; we encounter bad attitudes, and the list goes on. How do we respond to these situations? There is no panacea; it comes down to our human capital - how we deploy them; how motivated they are to go the extra mile when required; how well they are treated; how valued, included and responsible they feel towards the company; how empowered to be creative they are.

In managing chaos, leaders must be transparent about what's happening and why. Open and honest communication with your staff goes a long way in building trust and morale. They are more willing to stick with you through the wind and rain if they feel you are honest with them. In this process, some people may become distressed and need support through counselling, mentorship, or job training. This is a period when your empathy and understanding must be at their highest level, for change can prove challenging for many, but change will inevitably happen. Finally, share your vision with your personnel. A clear vision gives hope and the anticipation that things will get better. So when it rains, and pours, their spirits, though dampened, will not be flooded. Dealing with these kinds of situations is never easy, but approaching it with compassion and empathy can make all the difference in maintaining a positive and supportive workplace culture.

What matters is not what happens to us but how we respond, rise, dust ourselves off, learn and get going again. Take counsel from the Spanish proverb: Las cosas suelen empeorar antes de mejorar (it gets worse before it gets better). The Jamaicans say: “The darkest part of the night is when day soon light”. We go through difficult phases, but there is usually a light at the end of the tunnel if only we can muster up the patience and perseverance to grapple our way through the darkness, towards the light on the other side.

The French have a proverb: Le miel est doux, mais I'abeille pique (Honey is sweet, but bees sting). What can we learn from this? No one said life was easy! The path to success is not smooth; there will be moments of desperation, perhaps extreme adversity. We cannot change the external environment but we can change our strategy. What we cannot cure, we endure. In those moments when everything seems to be going wrong, we must draw on our inner strength and on the strength of others. Too often we try to cope alone when all we need to do is ask for help. A problem shared is a problem halved.

When it rains it pours, so let’s start selling umbrellas! Remember, it’s not what befalls us but how we respond to the situation that’s important.

person walking on street and holding umbrella while raining with vehicle nearby
person walking on street and holding umbrella while raining with vehicle nearby