Josh Kato described it as finding a way to be “miserably happy”. Kato is one of the fastest people to ever complete the epic Tour Divide Mountain Bike Race – a 2,750 mile off-road ride down the spine of America along the Continental Divide, a feat which required him to ride his bike almost continuously for two weeks with all the attendant pain and discomfort that involved. To cap it all, he did this self supported! For the Finnish, it is a national characteristic they call ‘sisu’. It’s that indefinable stoicism, grit, resilience and hardiness. It’s the determination in the face of adversity that you will prevail. It’s seeing the clouds without any silver lining and carrying on anyway. American business consultant and author, Jim Collins, called it the ‘Stockdale Paradox’ in honour of Admiral Stockdale who was imprisoned and tortured many times whilst held in the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prisoner of war camp. Stockdale’s approach was an absolute determination that he would survive, whilst at the same time facing the dreadful reality of his situation and recognising that it was not going to end anytime soon.
We’ve all been there to varying degrees: running or walking down a steep hill, your knees on fire with discomfort and still a long way to the valley floor; or travelling in a car feeling sick and uncomfortable from being thrown around on what seems like an endless track; an overwhelming amount of work that just seems to grow and grow; or that tidying up job where it seems almost impossible to know where to start and finishing looks like it could take forever. It’s that point where your shoulders slump, your energy is fading and you just want whatever it is to stop, and yet you know that in stopping, at some point you are going to have to start again. There is no way of avoiding the pain. And so, somehow, you pull yourself together and carry on.
Accounts of epic adventures, survival or endurance make for compelling reading and right now may have insights that will be very useful. In the last few weeks, we have had conversations with a number of companies who are readying themselves to move their operations out of the UK as a result of Brexit. They are seeking support
in helping staff through these changes. The storm clouds are gathering and these cumulonimbus have no silver lining. These tempestuous conditions face us all. But perhaps we can learn from people like Kato and Stockdale and others like them. It seems to me that what they describe as necessary attributes can be broken down into five features.
The first is the way you choose to think. If you are pondering whether you can or you can’t, you probably won’t. But if you’ve decided you will prevail, the thinking shifts from “can I?” to “how do I?” and that’s a very different way of looking at things. What remains is fathoming out, step-by-step what you need to do in order to get through the difficult times.
The second is breaking down what can seem like an overwhelming challenge into a series of discrete tasks. Being made redundant can feel like the end of the world. Managing it means treating it as a number of different challenges: sorting out your finances; pulling together your CV; identifying sources of work; reaching out into your network for opportunities; practising interview skills and so on.
The third is to recognise and accept it is hard; it is going to be hard and will probably get harder before it’s over. This was aptly described by Bob Marr, an endurance cyclist who said of the Tour Divide Mountain Bike Race: “It’s not a fun time with some hard times/days; it’s mostly hard work with some fun times interspersed throughout. Expect unicorns and rainbows and you will be beaten down; expect to suffer and you can then enjoy the unicorns and rainbows when they do appear.”
The fourth is to remember that nothing lasts forever – you will get to the end of each part of the task and of the journey overall. In just the same way, when the moments of pleasure do come along, enjoy them, because nothing lasts forever.
The final lesson is to keep going, however slowly, keeping moving forwards. You can’t get to the end of the race by standing still; you can’t complete the mountain of tasks unless you start doing them. The pace may be slow and progress may seem pathetic, but hang in there and keep at it.
Miserable happiness may not be the ideal state in which to be. But if history has shown us anything, it’s that some of the most amazing feats of human endeavour have occurred when people have found a way of being miserably happy.
Dominic Irvine © 2018 All rights asserted.