Geologists tell us that Earth’s history has included five mass extinction events that each wiped out the majority of species alive at the time ranging from 440 to 65 million years ago caused by various forces such as continental drift, climate change, volcanoes and meteor strikes and that destroyed 50% to as much as 96% of life on the planet. Now we’re told that this current era of global warming could be part of a sixth extinction caused by human impact, climate instability, melting ice caps, rising seas, and deadly microbes released from the melting ice. If we add to that gloomy narrative the plagues, wars, economic depressions and natural disasters that have marked the course of human history, the picture we get of life on earth is one of an intense, ongoing struggle to survive.
And yet, here we are! In each age of extinction, some species not only survived, they showed an heroic ability to thrive so that, despite the astronomical destruction of species, life on Earth has repeatedly increased in biodiversity.
As we apparently head into CV19 Round Two with increased cases and loss of life, renewed restrictions to our social behaviors and the economic traumas from that, the search for adequate testing, contact tracing and the discovery of a vaccine, it reminds me that I am a part of this ancient drama to survive or even to thrive on Earth. And so are you!
So let’s ask ourselves: How are we doing, O Earthlings? If we’re reading this, then we’re surviving the 6th Extinction so far. But are we thriving? Developing well and growing vigorous? To thrive in less than ideal circumstances is the pine tree growing through the rock on a cliffside; the flower pushing up through the pavement in a city; life thriving in an unlikely time or place. Despite the hard rock soil and the limitations of the pavement in the CV 19 Era, are we pushing through it and upward?
Here are three actions that help us thrive in difficult seasons of life:
1) Hone the White Hot Why. This is a phrase from Bill Hybels, founder and former pastor of Willow Creek Community Church and of the Global Leadership Summit. The White Hot Why is our inspiring, sustaining, foundational purpose that keeps us focused and going forward in all seasons of life. Our mission. Mission drift is common even in easy times, but it can be particularly common when the forces of the universe are trying to make us extinct!
Woven into the White Hot Why are other factors that motivate it and make it possible. Our values – those uncompromising principles we live by regardless of profit or pleasure. Our goals – the measurable plan to achieve our mission. Our time management skills – the daily routines that make our goals more than just a dream. If we want to thrive in uncertain times, part of it will be to clarify our purpose, establish our values that set healthy boundaries around that purpose, set the goals which give us a plan and hone the time management skills that will daily move us forward.
2) Strengthen Our Team. In junior high school I started reading Louis L’Amour Western novels, and he used a definite template to write over 100 books. A really tough, Lone Ranger, good guy who didn’t start trouble but was more than able to finish it, would unintentionally stir up some hornet’s nest of ruthless ruffians. He’d warn them to stop terrorizing the locals or he’d have to set them right. Of course, they’d ignore him not knowing that he was righteous anger incarnate, and for the next 100 pages he’d kill them in self-defense or send them packing and, in the end, get the girl. This template coincided nicely with the American myth of the solitary superhero who bravely conquers the forces of evil.
And it’s nonsense.
The reality is that a formation of geese always flies further than a lone eagle, and a well-functioning team always gets more done than the solitary hero. Healthy community has more and better specialized resources. Ideas to improve the present and innovate for the future most often come in context of team strategizing. Mission drift is less common when multiple eyes are watching the mission. The need and method for a courageous change will most often be discerned by a high performing group than by a brilliant individual. The encouragement to carry on is usually a communal dynamic. And the reality is also that if we want to thrive in trying times, one of the best strategies we can adopt is to strengthen our team.
Either at home or at work, which relationships need conflict resolution? Improved communication skills? Recalibrated mission, vision and methods? Who needs encouragement, redirecting or increased skills to strengthen the team and fulfill the mission? Which relationships need to be ended so that vital resources can be directed to more profitable ends? This kind of team building is hard, courageous and essential in order to thrive in traumatic seasons.
3) Give Back to the Community. No matter how successful we are, none of us has made it on our own. Every one of us has benefitted from someone investing in us. Parents, family, friends, teachers, coaches, mentors, bosses, generous foundations, school loans, networking that got us a job, someone who spoke a hard truth to us so that we could grow—who among us hasn’t been helped along by many such relationships?
Thriving people acknowledge their debt to the community and look for ways to help others as they have been helped. In other words, thriving people help others thrive. Every one of us has something to offer someone else and someone who would profit from our help. This isn’t a condescending, I’m better than you so I’ll throw you a bone kind of action. This is just the way healthy, thriving individuals, groups and societies work in all seasons, and each of us is better off for it. This giving back to our community even makes us better people—people who are less selfish, more grateful and even more joyful.
Who is it for us? That person or people we can connect with a resource, open a door of opportunity, mentor them or just encourage them? They’re right there in front of us, and part of our thriving is looking past our own circumstances to give back to our community.
Hone the White Hot Why, strengthen our team and give back to the community. These are just three ways we can thrive and help others to thrive as well, and in so doing we will be part of getting ourselves and others through these uncertain times.
What other ways do you know help us thrive?