I heard these words spoken by NFL Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin, as our Leadership Institute hosted a TED Talk in 2019. Curtis shared heartfelt stories about his upbringing—stories that would easily lend themselves toward him being yet another statistic on the street. But that’s not how Curtis looked at it. He saw light in the darkness. He saw opportunities under the adversity. These opportunities led him to become one of the greatest running backs of his time, now on a mission to create a philanthropic impact even greater—to leave this world better than he found it.
When Curtis said, “Underneath our biggest problems lie our biggest opportunities,” it struck me as one of the greatest truths I’d heard. Reflecting back on life, I have found that there are two mindsets when we confront adversity: one that sees the hurdles, obstacles, and why we cannot do something, and one that sees possibilities, opportunities, and why we can do something.
You’ve Been Here Before
For many of us, the global pandemic of 2020 provided an opportunity to reflect on what matters most in our lives. It showed us how abruptly adversity can strike.
It also offered an opportunity to transform into role models—to shift from helpless to helpful for those who needed us during these unprecedented times.
While we may not be able to personally prepare ourselves for a vast pandemic, I do believe we can show up with a grittier and more resilient mindset the next time a storm of this magnitude rolls around.
Our minds are wired to seek stability, security, comfort, and safety—none of which were available in abundance during the pandemic. The immediate reactions brought about tremendous fear, risk, and anxiety—driving uncertainty across all aspects of life.
My perspective is that one word amplified these negative feelings. It was a word that was on the news every second. You couldn’t avoid it if you tried—and it got in our heads, especially early on.
The word is unprecedented.
This word struck fear in all of us because we felt as though we hadn't been here before.
My view is that a belief that we have been here before could have had a tremendously positive effect on our morale and mindsets throughout the pandemic. Perhaps the health-related aspect of the pandemic was unprecedented, but the ripple effect and the impact on our lives were not all unprecedented.
Based on our personal histories, we have felt the way elements of the pandemic made us feel before. Many of us have been afraid in our lives. Many of us have faced tremendous risk in our lives. Many of us battle with anxiety every day of our lives. These are the same feelings we had because of the pandemic. And yet, we said we’ve never been here before—yes, we have.
We’ve experienced these negative emotions, and we’ve battled through, in some cases to come out bigger, faster, and stronger.
You have made it out of the past storms in your life—and that can be an empowering playbook to learn from and apply when a storm strikes back.
So, the next time you hear the word unprecedented—stop. Process it and ask yourself if you’ve been there before. Then use that memory as motivation for how to take the next step.
Paul Epstein is a bestselling author, leadership coach, keynote speaker, podcast host, and Founder of Purpose Labs, after leading business teams in the NFL and NBA for 15 years.
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