How well can you face the headwinds?
At work or in life, how do you handle misfortune?
Is your mind your best friend or your worst enemy?
Twenty years ago, Gilles was a successful entrepreneur in the financial sector, selling credit to consumers. He and his partners would share tales of how far they had stretched their clients beyond their borrowing capacity and would take bets on how long it would take for their prey to default on their debt. He was a gambler, a drinker, and, in his own words, not a nice guy. And then, one day, his wife left him.
Today, Gilles is still a successful entrepreneur in the financial sector, leading a thriving accounting firm on a mission to help individuals and businesses restructure their finances. He has not gambled or had a drink in two decades and founded a reputable not-for-profit addiction treatment center. Gilles is my accountant. He is one of the kindest men I have ever met.
Like Gilles, a Jedi sees the gift or opportunity in every outcome or circumstance, and so can we. According to CEO coach and author of New York Times bestselling Positive Intelligence Shirzad Chamine, the gift may be new knowledge, enhanced powers, or to act on a spark of inspiration. The challenge remains, however, to turn this wisdom into a way of life, no matter how strong the headwinds.
Over the last couple of months, events put me to the test. Today, I take my misfortunes as an opportunity to share some of my learnings with you.
I am relatively level-headed and resilient, but when I came out of the water after a freediving session last November, I knew something had gone wrong: I could not hear anymore. Within a few days, my right ear came back to normal. But when I put my phone to my left ear, I kept hearing nothing. I was later diagnosed with a severe case of sudden deafness.
I dive occasionally, but I sing and play the guitar every day. Music lifts me and fills me with joy. And now I was becoming deaf. How how could I find a gift in what was happening to me? I was devastated.
The gift of knowledge.
"To unearth the gift of knowledge, ask yourself what knowledge you would need to gain so that the payoff in the future could be much larger than what the misfortune is currently costing you. That new knowledge becomes the gift." (1)
Today, I am knowledgeable about sudden deafness, and so should you! Sudden deafness is not specific to diving and can happen to anyone for various reasons, viral infections being one of them. It is a medical emergency, and you must not delay proper diagnosis and treatment (I waited too long). You also must be prepared to seek a second opinion because the most effective therapies are not known to all practitioners (I learned this the hard way). I wrote a specific article with medical references to share this knowledge within and beyond the diving community. Please take a look and pass the word. Here it is.
Self-reflection: at work or in life, what gifts of knowledge has recent misfortune brought you?
The gift of power.
"To unearth the gift of power, see your misfortune as a weight in the gym and ask yourself which mental muscle you need to develop to navigate the situation better. That enhanced mental power becomes the gift." (1)
The power to adopt a Jedi's perspective.
The first of Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is to be proactive instead of reactive. If struck by lightning, hit pause on the remote control of your emotional reactions, regain balance, then choose a constructive course of action.
Easier said than done.
I was a mess in my car after hearing the diagnostic. The rational thinker that I am would argue that I still had one healthy ear. Also, my mother, a music lover like me, became deaf in her thirties; what right did I have to complain? But then I heard an inner whisper urging me to resist rationalization. A part of me needed to connect to the deep sorrow. I kept sobbing.
I was somehow out of control and angry, blaming myself and my freediving instructor. It took many long and deep breaths to quiet my inner scolding. Connecting to the warmth of the tears rolling down my cheeks helped.
After fifteen minutes or so, I eventually shifted to a brighter perspective that allowed me to contemplate a much bigger picture, act creatively with a clear-headed focus, and experience peace, calm and positive emotions.
Each day brings us opportunities to practice switching from reactivity to proactivity, rewire our brains, and strengthen our ability to adopt the Jedi's perspective. This day, my mind fitness training session was particularly intense.
The power to moderate the voices in my head.
When I stepped back to reflect, I asked myself some powerful questions. Why did my ear stop functioning? Was I diving too close to the mermaids? What voices in my head did I need to silence? How could I pay more attention to the messages of my heart?
The freediving textbooks clearly state that we should never equalize forcefully and always before experiencing pain. But I am the competitive type, and I pushed myself a little too much underwater.
After the accident, I enrolled an imaginary bodyguard whose full-time job is to keep my hyper-achiever inner voice in check and ensure it does not do more harm than good. Interestingly, with him on the watch, seeking help and support from others became more accessible.
And as my tears dried up, self-love and empathy emerged as the other powers I needed to strengthen to forgive myself for erring outside safety.
Self-reflection: at work or in life, what gifts of power has recent misfortune brought you?
The gift of inspiration.
"To unearth the gift of inspiration, commit to an inspiring action that you would not have taken if it wasn't for that misfortune happening to you. That action becomes the gift." (1)
I am committing to health and vitality.
I have always been somewhat athletic and healthy, but sudden deafness made me commit to new levels of wellness and vitality.
Understanding that inflammation contributed to the barotrauma that caused my hearing loss, I adopted an anti-inflammatory diet. I have been off alcohol, sugar, gluten, and dairy for the last three months. Because the inner drive is self-care and self-love, I do not need to rely on willpower to sustain my new eating habits. The critical piece here is that I switched diet for intrinsic (a warm feeling in my heart) rather than extrinsic (looking good on the beach) motives. You may inquire about my regimen a year from now, but when friends pull pizzas out of the wood oven, I have no envy.
Then came the cherry on the cake. Have you ever been on steroids? I had not. For the three weeks of my corticosteroid treatment, I experienced extreme energy and a laser-like ability to focus. Now that I am off the medication, I have a benchmark for the vitality level I want to sustain, and I am on a quest to design my lifestyle accordingly.
I am committing to musical practice.
I loved playing the piano, but I stopped. During the pandemic, I became a self-taught guitarist. When I realized I was taking my ability to hear for granted, I felt shame and guilt for not honoring my musical gifts more seriously. There is no better time than now. I finally hired a professional guitar teacher. More than ever, I am committing to musical practice.
I am committing to mental fitness coaching, training, and advocacy.
"Your mind is your best friend, but it can also be your worst enemy. Your mind is constantly sabotaging your potential for both performance and happiness. All your negative emotions, including stress, are the result of self-sabotage.
Mental fitness training strengthens the part of your brain that serves you, quiets the part that sabotages you, and allows you to handle life's challenges with a more positive mindset and less stress.
The benefits are immediate and sustained improvements in both wellbeing and performance." (1)
Mental fitness already informs my coaching philosophy. But knowing that I would not have handled my hearing loss so gracefully if I weren't a mental fitness practitioner, I am now committing to mental fitness as a mentor, a trainer, and an advocate.
Everybody knows to go to the gym to get ripped. But how about developing the habit of training our minds?
Starting this year, I invite every coaching client to begin their coaching journey with a six-week mind fitness boot camp, with app-based daily practices reinforcing new mind fitness habits. The program is also available for teams. We can achieve our full potential only from a place of clarity, focus, ease, and flow.
Self-reflexion: at work or in life, what gifts of inspiration has recent misfortune brought you?
Training our minds, one neural pathway at a time.
There is no shortcut to mastery. Training our minds takes daily practice. We reap great benefits quite rapidly. And then, eventually, we can keep our balance in most strong winds. But sometimes, the headwinds are too fierce.
The week I had my freediving accident, I received terrible news. Théo, a coaching client of mine, had died. He was twenty-eight years old. For days, my heart was heavy. I kept him and his family in my thoughts. I remembered my grandmother, who for decades lived overcome with grief after my teenage uncle died in a car crash a few months before my birth.
After her thirteen-year-old daughter was killed by a hit-and-run, Candy Lightner founded the not-for-profit Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and became a moving force behind reshaping Americans' attitudes toward drunk driving.
Yoda, not everyone gets to be.
Today, like a Jedi, we may train,
In misfortune, see the gifts,
Befriend our minds.
(1) - Shirzard Chamine - Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential AND HOW YOU CAN ACHIEVE YOURS.