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Turning Crisis into Opportunity

Steve Jobs did it. Now it's your turn.

Crises come into our lives, no matter how we may try to avoid them. They are troubling, unwanted experiences or events that take us way out of our comfort zone. Typically, crises result in some type of loss. The very nature of a crisis is antithetical to our core values of certainty and predictability as they vanish in an instant.

We desperately try to restore order to our lives, as chaos seems to prevail. Yet, if we learn to reframe how we see crisis, we might actually take advantage of it. There is the potential for alchemy as the crisis unfolds into a gain, provided we learn to stop resisting the unwanted change.

The crisis may be of a financial, relationship, health, or spiritual nature. Those crises that are internally driven tend to be relational, psychological, or emotional. Ordinarily, we try to avoid these upsets as best we can. Yet, upheavals are at times leveled upon us and may not be of our making. We may feel like victims of the circumstances, as we struggle to hold on to life as we knew it.

Typically, personal change requires our motivation and intention to serve as the catalyst to power the transition. Crisis, on the other hand, removes the self-motivating requirement as it places us squarely outside of our familiar zone. The crisis literally removes the boundaries that have circumscribed us.

It is as if a tornado has swept in, and when we open our eyes, everything has changed. The maelstrom places us well beyond the bounds of the known. We typically find ourselves wanting desperately to get back inside the comfort of the known. But the crisis precludes that option. There is no going back. But that is where the opportunity lies.

Breaking Free

Growth and fundamental levels of change only tend to occur when we are out of our comfort zone. We can refer to this as being far from equilibrium, where certainty and predictability no longer reign supreme. So we might look at the crisis as a blessing in disguise, albeit an unwanted one.

Steve Jobs might have felt self-defeated and victimized himself after he was fired from Apple many years ago. He chose otherwise. After his dismissal, he grasped the crisis by the horns, seeing opportunity where others did not. He went on to lead a small animation company and turn it into the juggernaut that is now Pixar. When The Walt Disney Company bought Pixar in 2006, Jobs immediately became the largest shareholder in Disney. The moral of the story is that unwanted change happens; look beyond it and embrace the discomfort.

The crisis is but a snapshot of a moment in time, and one we’d prefer to avoid. But to achieve self-empowerment requires looking beyond that snapshot and envisioning what door of potential has just flung open.

The individual whose spouse initiated divorce or left them for another person feels betrayed and perhaps heartsick. After a time, though, they may, in fact, come to feel thankful to be freed from an unworthy and inauthentic relationship. This is particularly true if they evolve through the loss and benefit from a new and healthier relationship.

I fervently believe that every crisis presents an opportunity. Crisis and opportunity are merely different aspects of the process. Do we choose to focus on the crisis and freeze in fear, or do we inquire as to what the opportunity may be? Let’s take a deeper look at the phenomena of crisis.

Illuminating Crisis

Crises tend to present themselves as either acute or chronic circumstances. For example, there is an economic upheaval that is driving the United States and the world economy into highly volatile perturbations, with both wealth and employment literally disappearing. In the lives of most people, this is an external crisis raining upon them, typically not of their own making. Yet, through these losses, many people are coming to reflect on their values and choices and are making adjustments—due to the crisis—that actually benefit them.

A high-powered Wall Street executive, with whom I was working, had hardly a spare moment for his family, as he was ever consumed with achieving more and more. The loss of his job at first paralyzed him with fear. After a time, however, he was able to reevaluate his priorities. He now works from home in a small business he founded, and he and his family have greatly benefited.

An unexpected health issue or the death of a loved one may bring anxiety and/or loss. However painful and stressful these challenges and losses may be, the opportunity to be in the moment and value life from a differing perspective can prevail.

Chronic crises are more personal as they manifest thematically throughout one’s life. One’s relationship struggles or battles with self-esteem or depression tend to recur throughout life. These patterns are perpetual mini-crises awaiting a more fundamental resolution.

Learning to look at the larger themes and patterns that set up these challenges will help develop a vantage point from which you may break through the struggle. In other words, what are the recurring stories of your life? What is your participation in this storyline?

Likewise, relationship difficulties tend to self-perpetuate until a turning point is reached. Often, the relationship crisis launches the couple into new territory, whereby growth may finally be achieved. The pain endured through the crisis may actually enable this gain. For example, infidelity can be a horrific experience, but it may also open the door to a more authentic examination of the marriage and the possibility of a hopeful resolution. I have assisted a number of couples as they worked through this travail and transformed their relationships in a healthy way.

Where Is the Opportunity?

Let’s delve a bit deeper into the opportunity that prevails through these hardships. A crisis is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as: “a crucial or decisive point or situation; a turning point.” If we focus on the phrase “turning point,” we might ask ourselves, “Toward where are we turning?”

It is in this non-reactive contemplation that we may elect to seek opportunity. This potentiality becomes obscured when we are mired in the loss of the familiar as opposed to venturing into the new. This tipping point is precisely where transformation occurs.

Do we gaze into the unfolding potential of change, or do we focus on the loss of the familiar? Your answer reveals your relationship between loss and opportunity. Ultimately the question is whether we choose to freeze in the panic of the unfamiliar or we seek to opportunize the new territory that’s unfolding for us. The former presents anxiety and retreat, the latter evokes growth. Release your hold on loss and embrace your relationship with opportunity. They are inversely correlated.

The only constant in the universe is flow. What we call crisis is simply the occurrence of change. We are not the masters of change, and if we release our need to control it, we can ride the waves of change and often turn it into opportunity.

As George Harrison sang, “Sunrise doesn’t last all morning.” Change happens. Prepare for it.

More from Mel Schwartz L.C.S.W.
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