How to Turn Hard Times Into Periods of Immense Personal Growth

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Almost every entrepreneur will identify with the term “growing pains,” especially in relation to the early months and years of a business. There are periods when there’s a battle to deal with or a knot to untangle almost every day – I’ve certainly been there myself! If you don’t have growing pains, you probably aren’t growing.

But the good news is that last week’s setback doesn’t define you. A year from now, you probably won’t remember what problem kept you up last night. It can be difficult to take a step back when you’re knee-deep in the final challenge, but my advice is always to “think long-term.” Today’s trials will eventually be remembered as long as you put in the work to get through them and avoid getting sidetracked from your path to success. Instead of seeing problems as obstacles in the road, try to see them as steps to be climbed. Put one foot in front of the other and you will get closer to your goals.

Look outside for inspiration

By default, many entrepreneurs look inward for inspiration, ideas, and answers to problems. In the right circumstances, this practice can serve you well. However, don’t forget that opening up to your partners, advisors, supervisors and other members of your extended team can make all the difference. Sometimes the outward turn leads to solutions that one would never have thought of.

Throughout my career I have learned that there is no shame in being transparent and even vulnerable at times. Just because you are the leader doesn’t mean you have to solve every problem. I’ve seen the smartest developers get bogged down after weeks of staring at endless lines of code. Then comes a chance conversation with someone from another team who doesn’t know anything about code at all, and a spark ensues. Suddenly the problem is solved. This is proof that sometimes you just have to get out of your own head.

It’s definitely a mindset shift that takes practice to master. Next time you feel like you’ve hit a wall, just press the pause button instead of collapsing. There is no need to dive too deeply into the subject right away. Instead, get advice and input from your trusted circle.

Related: 5 examples of how tough times produce the most impactful innovations

Loosen that vise-like grip for control

Many entrepreneurs are not attuned to being comfortable with uncertainty. They are often naturally organized and disciplined. They thrive on structure and need to be in control of any situation. After going through many difficult times personally and professionally, I’ve learned that you have to accept that you can’t always be in control. Once you realize this, two things happen. First, you can experience uncomfortable emotions like tension, frustration, or disappointment without them dampening your determination to succeed. Second, you will take back control of your challenges or setbacks and make them work for you.

Imagine going to the gym to work out and really push yourself. Over the next few days, your muscles will ache while they recover and repair. It may hurt, but that’s how they build new mass and strength. Next time you hit the gym, that discomfort will be a thing of the past and you can push yourself harder. It’s the same in business. When problems inevitably arise, instead of immediately getting angry at the worst-case scenario, your first thought should be, “Here’s an opportunity for growth. What do I learn from this?”

Related: Stop Moving the Goalposts: Do You Recognize Your Own Success?

What is hidden in plain sight?

These opportunities, masquerading as challenges, can manifest themselves in many ways. Suppose one of your employees comes to you with a problem he or she has with a project. Instead of focusing on solving the problem so the employee can get back to work, pause, ask questions and listen carefully.

Perhaps the employee is not in the right role for their skills or personality. Maybe the employee needs more flexibility and is just too scared to ask. If you dig a little deeper, you might even find that it’s not just the one person who is struggling or unhappy. It can be the whole team. If so, you have a unique opportunity to make that person feel heard and potentially improve the organization on a larger scale.

Once the problem is solved, don’t just clap your hands and walk away. The most important thing is to make sure it never happens again. Of course, the old adage “You can’t make everyone happy” applies. Also, you can’t make everyone happy by just throwing money at them. In many cases this is a weak and temporary solution. Take the time to understand the true complexities of your dissatisfaction, or it will fester in the end.

At my Boardsi company, one of our customer service reps recently spoke about his workload. Overwhelmed by the daily volume of emails and phone calls, he was slowly falling behind. Our solution was to shift his focus to email communication and hire a new employee to handle the phone contact. This allowed us to grow as a company and solve the problem of our employees.

Outside the organization we have accepted that not every customer will be 100% satisfied. For example, we used to send email notifications of any changes to our service. People started complaining that they got too many messages from us, so we decided to reduce the offer. Then we got feedback from customers who wanted more regular updates. So there are no perfect answers to certain problems. However, we have found that we can tailor solutions wherever possible and make sure everyone feels heard.

At the end of the day, the best thing you can do for customers and employees is engage and listen. When a seemingly impossible problem comes up, remember not to despair. Your company determines how you master challenges and sets guidelines for a successful future. Look for solutions to problems that create opportunities for you and your employees. Growing together and growing as a unit.

See also: 5 Ways Personal Growth Boosts Your Business

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