During his reign, Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius experienced persistent crises.
A horrible plague, an attempt at the throne by one of his closest associates, possible infidelity, a greedy and incompetent step-brother as co-emperor, a depleting treasury, nearly constant war, and travel… it went on and on.
How Aurelius handled these crises made him a legend among men.
He displayed extraordinary character to practice virtues like patience, creativity, justice, reason, courage, humility, and resourcefulness in each crisis.
Each setback saw him evolve as an emperor and a human being.
But most of us would not respond like that. We would either let the power go to our heads or turn sour. And who could blame us? We would expect others to understand how miserable our lives are, not add to our miseries.
“Why does this always happen to me?”
We’re living in one of the safest, non-violent periods of history (although it doesn’t feel so).
But our personal lives have turned as volatile as the stock market. We face challenges at every turn that can quickly spiral into a crisis.
Our professional skills can turn redundant in a fast-moving world. Black swan events can make our investments nosedive. Our finances can dry up because of incidents that could (literally) place us in lockdown. A business can border on having to shut down because of tough market conditions.
Each crisis is different. But our responses to them are often the same: Anxiety. Confusion. Fear. Helplessness. Anger. Depression.
But here’s the thing.
A crisis is less about the event itself and more about how it affects us. And while the event might appear shocking, the outcomes rarely occur without prior warning.
For instance, a substantial cutback in our work could serve as a warning for a looming layoff. An extended bullish market might serve as a warning about a huge downside risk. Being left with more month at the end of money is a red flag when it comes to managing our expenses.
Each time we encounter a warning signal, we promise to address the Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. Yet, the next crisis catches us off guard. It’s like a never-ending game of unpleasant musical chairs.
Why does this happen?
Extended periods of good times breed overt optimism and impede our ability to address the elephant in the room. We pay lip service to take care of what’s important, but our actions rarely match our words.
Instead, we prioritize urgent and easier things over important yet simple ones. We either refuse to acknowledge that a storm can hit anytime, or stick our heads in the sand hoping such a storm passes us by.
But such a storm destroys everything we know. It leaves us clueless over how to rebuild our lives with the broken pieces. And as astronaut Chad Hadfield says, “there is no problem so bad we can’t make it worse.”
When we blame situations and people for our condition, life becomes unbearable… because it keeps putting obstacles in our paths until we learn our lessons.
The Right Way to Weather a Storm
The first step is to accept our vulnerability without shame.
Objective judgment, now at this very moment.
Unselfish action, now at this very moment.
Willing acceptance — now at this very moment — of all external events.
That’s all you need. — Marcus Aurelius
There’s something divine about acceptance.
It brings clarity. It lets us take action despite negative emotions to improve ourselves. It helps us not just identify how to overcome the current crisis but also prepare ourselves better for the future.
A layoff can help us identify and build our technical and soft skills to thrive in the new economy.
A stock market crash can serve as baptism by fire to teach us how to make rational decisions.
Drying up of finances repeatedly can teach us lessons on using our money well.
Losing customers can serve as a strong wake-up call to align our offerings with their needs.
And when we know what to do, taking action becomes easier.
“Sometimes you need a little crisis to get your adrenaline flowing and help you realize your potential.” — Jeanette Walls
This is tough.
To avoid the temptation of reverting to old, harmful habits.
To do what’s simple, especially when it’s not easy.
To take charge of your actions rather than letting circumstances dictate them.
Acceptance and preparation don’t guarantee that you’ll emerge unscathed from crises either. But they guarantee that you’ll handle them better and evolve in the process — mentally, emotionally, and economically.
Each crisis is a test of your mettle. Each result is what you deserve. Make sure you’re worthy of what you desire.
Then nothing will stop the universe from giving it to you.