Life is a rollercoaster. It's not lived in a straight and level line like I-70 through Kansas, where you can set the cruise control to 85, take a nap, and wake up in Colorado. One of the many reasons that's still not possible is that, while the line may be straight, the reality of driving a car is that you will encounter potholes, road blocks, construction zones and lunatic drivers paying more attention to texting and eating than the 4,000 pound projectile they're piloting through traffic. Life, like driving a car, brings us adversity, challenges and frequent occasions to work on our patience. Depending on how we choose to handle these things, the end result could be devastating – that is, if YOU let it.
During the 90’s, the late Richard Carlson, Ph.D, considered one of the foremost experts in happiness and stress reduction in the United States at the time, wrote a series of books called, Don't Sweat the Small Stuff . . . and It's All Small Stuff. It basically described how to put challenges and roadblocks in perspective, reduce stress and anxiety through small daily changes, to help you find the path to achieving your goals. The series became a runaway best-seller, making history as the #1 best-seller in the United States for two consecutive years, and spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times Best-Seller list, selling over 15 million copies worldwide. I'm quoting the incredible appeal of this concept because it is 100% the absolute truth! However, after almost three decades in business and in life, I would also add this: If, after all your best efforts you do end up sweating, don't let anyone see you sweat.
If life didn't bring us enough adversity, humans are famous for adding to it by causing their own; by making bad choices and by exhibiting bad behavior. You can have the world's shittiest boss, but if you don’t show up to work on time for an entire week, there’s no one else to blame but yourself for him telling you not to bother coming in on Monday.
On the other hand, some adversity comes our way because of the bad choices other people make. If you get hit by a drunk driver, there’s a good chance the aftermath, depending on how sever, is going to present many challenges you didn't order. And, some adversity just seems to be a matter of bad luck. Insurance companies have a term in most policies called force majeure. This describes what's called “acts of God” —floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and other destructive events that just happen. However you slice it. Life is not going to be smooth sailing. If it is, you're doing something wrong.
You can eliminate some adversity by consistently making good choices. But, there will still be lows in life. If the roller coaster goes up, it is bound to go down. You already know firsthand that life holds some adversity. We all know it. But surprisingly, we still get blindsided by it. We all know people who can't cope when things go south.
If you workout hard, I can guarantee you that you will get hurt from time to time. On a rainy day, my left shoulder reminds me of how hard I trained when I was young and thought I was indestructible. If you're in a relationship, I can promise you that there won’t be candles and roses on the table every night. There will be some fights and disagreements. That doesn't mean you don’t love each other. It means you’re human. If you are a parent, your kids aren’t going to respond to everything you want them to do, or behave the way you think they should—even when you think you are being perfectly reasonable and fair. If you own a business, it's inevitable that there will be months, meetings, problems, and situations where you'd wish the buck didn’t stop with you.
So how do you ride the roller coaster of life? I think there’s an underused and underrated word that's such a huge determinant of your overall success: poise. When you practice poise, it’s almost like you knew trouble was coming before it got there. When everyone else is whining and complaining you're handling what needs to be handled. Poise is a little bit like a duck crossing a pond. On the surface, it seems to glide elegantly across the water, but what no one can see is that beneath the surface, those webbed feet are churning like crazy.
Poise is a posture that exudes grace. It knows that no problem is big enough to let them see you sweat. It brings wisdom and patience to the table. Someone mouths off to you and instead of lashing out and escalating things, you ignore what needs to be ignored. You're poised when you get a grip on your temper. Poise doesn't mean you're meek and it doesn’t mean you don’t have passion and emotions—believe me, I know, I'm Italian! It’s a tool of self-control that marshals your strengths to handle whatever life throws at you.
I won bodybuilding contests because I had poise. It's why I overcame adversity. It's why I lead a successful company. It’s the only way I know how to ride the roller coaster called life. Next time some adversity comes your way make it an opportunity—step up your game, and don't let them see you sweat.