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Turning crisis into opportunity: 5 ways to deal with hardship

You can actually turn all the obstacles in your road to success as opportunities to further fuel your drive to succeed.
By Ryan Holiday |
Turning crisis into opportunity: 5 ways to deal with hardship

Entrepreneurs face obstacles from the moment they wake up in the morning, whether they're trying to satisfy investors, struggling to meet payroll, dealing with unexpected complications, or delivering a new product to market.

Of course, not everyone is cut out for these rough seas. But some individuals stand out as being particularly well-suited for dealing with what investor and advisor Ben Horowitz calls the ’hard things.’

It’s these entrepreneurs who turn what seems to be an unending stream of difficulty into advantage. They emerge from obstacles stronger and more successful. While others lose their heads (or their shirts), they not only remain calm but seize the offensive and the opportunities. Subjected to such obstacles, these entrepreneurs are transformed much in the way that Andy Grove, former Intel CEO, observed, “Bad companies are destroyed by crisis. Good companies survive them. Great companies are improved by them.”

Related: Celebrating failure: How to make a hit out of misses

As it turns out, there is a method for understanding and acting upon the obstacles that life throws at us. There is a way to be improved by them. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius forged this formula centuries ago and wrote it to himself as a daily reminder:

“Objective judgment, now at this very moment.

Unselfish action, now at this very moment.

turning_crisis_into_opportunity_2.pngWilling acceptance -- now at this very moment -- of all external events.

That’s all you need.”

What follows are five strategies born of this ancient maxim. Forged over centuries, this framework contains timeless wisdom that we all can use to turn the challenges we face into great triumphs for ourselves and our companies. It’s the one thing that all great entrepreneurs have in common.

1. Keep a cool head.


Today's entrepreneurs live in turbulent times. Instead of letting our perception of events cloud our judgment, we can look to companies like LinkedIn and Microsoft, that were both founded during times of economic crisis. When others become lost worrying about a competitor’s latest acquisition or an investor having a fit, observe coolness under pressure and look for the opportunity in a crisis.

2. Think differently.

turning_crisis_into_opportunity_3.pngSteve Jobs was famous for what observers called his ’reality distortion field,’ which made him dismissive of phrases like “It can’t be done.” When he ordered a special kind of glass for the first iPhone, manufacturers were aghast at the aggressive deadline. “Don’t be afraid,” Jobs said. “You can do it. Get your mind around it. You can do it.”

Nearly overnight, manufacturers transformed their facilities into glassmaking behemoths, and within six months they had made enough for the whole first run of the phone. His insistence pushed them past what they thought was possible.

We can choose to reject our first judgments and the objections that spring out of them by insisting that obstacles are in fact malleable, not concrete. Like, Apple's leader we must have faith in our ability to make something where there was nothing before. To companies like Facebook and Google in their startup years, the idea that no one had ever done something was a good thing. It meant there was an opportunity to own it themselves.

Related: Taking the bite out of a workplace crisis

3. Ignore the rules.


There are times that we must take bold action that requires ignorance of outdated or oppressive regulations to accomplish our business goals. What’s right is what works.

4. Anticipate (think negatively).

There is a popular technique being used by individuals at startups and Fortune 500 companies that the Harvard Business Review has called the pre-mortem. This pre-mortem technique, designed by psychologist Gary Klein, is an exercise in practicing hindsight in advance. But like all great ideas, it's actually nothing new. The credit goes to the ancient Stoics. They even had a better name for it: premeditatio malorum (premeditation of evils).

turning_crisis_into_opportunity_4.pngOur plans rarely resemble the way things turn out. But as stoic entrepreneurs, we can rehearse in our minds what could go wrong and not be caught by surprise. Using this process, we surpass our competitors who are shocked and fall back, devastated by what they did not imagine coming.

5. Amor fati  (or love your fate).

When Jack Dorsey was replaced as CEO at Twitter, he didn’t become paralyzed or depressed. Instead he accepted it and went on to found Square, one of the largest payment-processing startups in the world. We don’t benefit from tears, anger or despair. We always get something out of passionate intensity and energy. This is what the ancient Stoics called amor fati, love of fate.

You might not see yourself as a ’philosopher,’ but then again neither did most of these men and women. They were not academics, but men of action. But the essence of philosophy is action, making good on the ability to turn the obstacle upside down with our minds.

Related: 9 lessons you won't learn in business school



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This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been done by the editor.

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