Dec 29, 2021

How to Make the Most of a Bad Situation (Issue #341)

But it doesn’t mean settling for less

Larry Cornett, Ph.D.
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Person holding a lantern at sunset
Photo by Erika Cristina from Pexels

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. Frankl

I’m sitting here writing this newsletter in the dark with the hum of a generator rumbling outside. We lost our power and internet a couple of days ago, and it looks like we won’t have it back for 5-7 more days. 

Winter storms dumped a record amount of snow in the Sierras. The weight of all of that snow is snapping branches and toppling trees. 

But, we’re doing our best to make the most of a bad situation. It’s cold and dark, but we’re able to keep a fire going, and we stocked up on food before the storm hit. We light candles at night and read physical books. 

Yes, paper books! I’d forgotten what a joy it is to sit by a warm fire with a hot drink and read a good book.

My phone has a weak data connection, but I hope it will be sufficient to publish this newsletter and get it out to you. We’ll see…

Complaining about the snow and power outage accomplishes nothing. Anger won’t melt the snowdrifts on the road. Frustration won’t force PG&E to work faster to restore our power. 

It is what it is, so we have no choice but to make the best of it. The constraints and limitations of a more primitive environment have helped me reconnect with two things near and dear to me; reading and writing

Yes, I do read every day. But, it’s not the same. I read fragments of articles, bits of research, and a few paragraphs of books in the margins of time between client meetings, running my community, marketing, and other daily tasks. 

For the past two days, I’ve been devouring hundreds of pages for hours at a time because there really isn’t much else I can do in this storm. I’ve been reading The Bradbury Chronicles - The Life of Ray Bradbury by Sam Weller (my affiliate link). Bradbury was one of my favorite authors when I was growing up, and reading more about him has reawakened my desire to write and publish fiction.

Running my business has given me a deeper purpose for the past 11 years than I ever experienced as an employee working for someone else. I mean, how could I feel like my work had meaning when we were essentially asked to just drive more clicks on ads to make the company more money?

Wow. What an amazing contribution to humanity. 🙄

However, I still feel an itch for more significant meaning in my life beyond the business. I enjoy running it, and I love helping people, but I want to have a more lasting impact on the world. I want something that I create to survive long after I’ve left this world.

Therefore, I’ve decided to dust off my book drafts, finish something, and publish it next year. Ray Bradbury makes me feel lazy. He wrote and submitted a short story every single week during his entire career! 

He wrote the first draft of The Fireman in nine days on a rented typewriter in the basement of UCLA’s Powell Library. He later expanded the story in just nine more days to create Fahrenheit 451, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. The book has never gone out of print and has sold more than 10 million copies. 

I’ll never achieve Bradbury’s success, of course. But that’s not why I want to publish my books.

I’m simply trying to keep a promise that I made to myself so very long ago. That young boy wanted to be a writer, so perhaps the meaning that will drive me forward for the rest of my life will be fulfilling that dream.


Meaning or happiness?

Would you rather have a happy life or a meaningful one? What gives your life meaning?

Sure, you can be happy when you only live in the moment. Pursuing pleasure will bring you fleeting joy. But, like all emotions, peaks of happiness and joy are brief, and they fade.

Also, living that way opens you to sadness, anger, and frustration when your pursuit of happiness is thwarted. And, trust me, you are not in control of the world, environment, or people around you. 

So, how will you react when things go sideways and interfere with your daily pleasures? If hedonism guides you, you’re going to be pretty damn unhappy when the going gets rough. 

“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.”
— Viktor Frankl

However, if a larger purpose guides you, you’ll find a way forward. A temporary setback doesn’t derail you when pursuing long-term or even lifelong goals. 

Holocaust survivor, Viktor Frankl, realized that the difference between those who survived and those who died came down to one thing: Meaning. People who found meaning, even in the worst of situations, were more resilient. 

Having a purpose gives you the drive to continue. You feel that you must push through and forward because your work is not yet done. 


Finding your purpose

I encounter four types of people when I speak of finding your purpose. One group already has a purpose, and they’re spending time every day — in some way — pursuing it. 

Another group acutely feels the need for a purpose, but they haven’t uncovered it yet. Many people who reach out to me for my help fall into this group. They want to discover their purpose and find a way to redesign their working life around it.

The third group can’t be bothered with it. They struggle to survive and have no time for lofty thoughts of purpose and meaning. But, in that case, I would argue that survival is their purpose — at least for the time being.

The final group shrugs off the whole notion of having a purpose in life. They think it’s silly. They’re chasing success and accumulating wealth. They think they don’t need a larger purpose or meaning in their lives. As you can imagine, I don’t often work with these people, and my writing doesn’t seem to interest them.

“Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how'.”
― Viktor E. Frankl

How about you? Have you found your purpose yet? Do you want to? 

Is the pursuit of meaning important to you? Have you ever thought about finding your “calling”?

If so, I created a course called “Finding Your Purpose and Calling.” Check it out and see if it can help you with that pursuit. Note: the price goes up next year, so get it now!

However, you shouldn’t feel overwhelmed by the prospect of finding an earth-shattering life’s purpose. Not everyone is meant to cure cancer or eliminate world hunger. 

Also, your purpose can change. Something can serve you well and motivate you for years. But, at some point, you might feel like you’ve either achieved what you wanted or that it no longer drives you. 

It’s not uncommon. It happens. It simply means that it’s time to find your next purpose.


Meaning is your thread

When you have a purpose, no moment feels wasted. Bradbury had times when he couldn’t write or capture his drafts on his typewriter (e.g., long bus rides). So, he wrote stories in his head. Even those moments were productive. 

The same is true when you have a purpose that is larger than the work you do for an employer. It gives your life meaning even when you might feel like you’re wasting your time at work. It becomes a consistent thread in your life that you follow forward — like a lifeline.

I know that feeling. I’ve had some terrible and pointless jobs. I’ve worked for horrible bosses who made me dread going to work every day. 

But, even in those times, I had my eye on something more meaningful. My job was just a means to an end. It paid the bills while I pursued my dreams. I used every free minute and mindless moment at work to read, study, and write (sometimes in my head, as Bradbury did). 

I often work with clients who feel trapped in a job draining their souls. When we first start talking, they are down and dejected. They sound hopeless

However, we take the essential first step of giving them a larger purpose beyond that job. We create a vision of their future that gives them hope. They can see the light at the end of the tunnel and realize that this unpleasant moment in time is temporary. 

It will get better. They will do something more meaningful with their life. 

So, we start crafting a plan to help them escape and pursue work with purpose. A vision, mission, goals, and plan change everything. Now, they see that they have a larger purpose and their efforts have meaning. 

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
― Viktor E. Frankl

They begin seeing opportunities even in the job they can’t stand. They aren’t settling by any means. They know they’re still going to leave. But now it’s on their schedule, and they’re making the most of a bad situation to get what they need out of it until it is time to quit. 

They use their last months in that job to acquire:

  • More knowledge

  • Useful skills

  • Valuable experiences

  • Powerful connections

  • A larger financial cushion


Rise above temporary circumstances

There will always be setbacks in life. The road to long-term success is bumpy and littered with roadblocks. 

But, you can’t let temporary circumstances bring you down. You can’t let a negative situation stop you from pursuing your dreams

When your life has more significant meaning than receiving a 9-to-5 paycheck, you know bad times will pass. You may even weave a silver lining out of those unpleasant moments, just as Bradbury did when he turned traumatic memories into stories that people can’t stop reading. 

You are more important than an employer who treats you like a small cog in their giant machine. Your life’s purpose is larger than any single job. 

Rise above it all.


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Larry Cornett is a leadership coach and business advisor who hosts a private mastermind community for ambitious professionals with weekly challenges, office hours, and confidential support. If you’re interested in starting your own business or side hustle someday (or accelerating an existing one), check out his “Employee to Solopreneur” course (launching in 2022).

Larry lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, and a gigantic Great Dane. He does his best to share advice to help others take complete control of their work and life. He’s also on Twitter @cornett.