Flourishing Amid Chaos


In my first post of this series on social enterprise, I defined a social enterprise as an ongoing initiative offering services or products for sale that generate net revenue, while also yielding measurable social impact. I promised that I would next provide a lens through which to view social enterprise and offer ways to cultivate the conditions for success. 

Since that post, we’ve continued to feel the devastating effects of COVID-19 and are in the midst of even more upheaval with the protests stemming from the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. The demands for your services are likely increasing while revenues are falling, and the future uncertain. I want to acknowledge these realities and to confess that writing about social enterprise during these times can feel a bit, well, tone deaf. 

Given this, I’m going to go a bit deeper, and speak to you as the purpose-driven professional you are, someone who has opted in to being an active force for good in this crazy world. And this crazy world needs you to be at your best right now. To be at your best, it's critical that you tend to yourself on a regular basis. Call it self-care, if you like, but don't mistake it for self-indulgence. It's far from it. Self-care is fundamental to your being at your best, and to flourish.

There are four meta-skills that are foundational elements to an individual’s flourishing (and it happens that these meta-skills apply to things like social enterprise—but that’s for another time.)

The four skills are belief, awareness, creativity, and passionate perseverance. Let’s take each in turn:

1. Belief. I don’t mean belief in a religious sense, rather, belief that circumstances can be different, and better in a big way. Belief that your own development is not fixed, and that you can grow and develop continuously, all for a richer and more fulfilling life. It holds that if you can grow, so can others. And this belief in your own potential to grow and develop enables you to imagine futures that before seemed impossible. Dr. Carol Dweck’s work around mindsets, as related in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, provides the scientific basis for belief being a foundational element. Dr. Dweck’s research revealed the continuum between a fixed mindset, where traits such as intelligence are locked in and there’s not much that one can do about it, and a growth mindset, where these same traits are considered to be malleable, and with hard work and good strategies an individual can develop and grow.

2. Awareness. Awareness here means being fully attuned to what you are experiencing at any given moment. Dr. Ellen Langer’s work around mindfulness, as related in her book by the same name, provides the scientific basis for awareness being a foundational element. In Dr. Langer’s framing of this, awareness, or mindfulness, is simply noticing things, as opposed to being ‘mindless.’ When we notice things, we are able to better navigate ambiguity, and make decisions to interpret, act on, or dismiss our feelings in any given moment. We’re able to recognize bias clouding our judgment or self-talk that is more fixed in nature and ill-suited to an optimal next move. And we’re able to make connections that we otherwise couldn’t make when mindless.

3. Creativity. Creativity is the skill most desired by executives around the world and across industries. Each of us is creative; it's innate. Yet most of us either don't believe that we're particularly creative, if at all, or are not harnessing our full creative potential. This amounts to enormous untapped human potential, for ourselves, in our own lives, for our organizations, for our communities, and, indeed, for the whole planet. Unlocking this potential in yourself starts with understanding where your creative strengths and weaknesses lie and learning how to shore up your weak areas to realize your creative potential. Dr. Shelley Carson’s work around creativity, as related in her book, Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life, provides the scientific basis for creativity being a foundational element. Dr. Carson’s conceptualization of BRAINSETS, and accompanying assessments and exercises, enables readers to determine their particular creative strengths and to enhance areas of weakness. Learners are then better able to engage, and lead others, in the creative problem-solving process.

4. Passionate Perseverance. Passionate perseverance enables you to go beyond the limitations of your talent. Fueled by passion and perseverance, you can go further than you thought possible, and both are skills that can be developed and applied. Dr. Angela Duckworth’s work around grit, as related in her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, provides the scientific basis for grit being a foundational element. Dr. Duckworth’s research reveals that effort is twice as important as talent when it comes to success, and a deep and abiding passion fuels the necessary perseverance to see things through when others—even those with more talent—would have given up long before.

These are four skills that any of us can develop, on an individual level, that will aid in our flourishing. Each can be developed in isolation or in concert and only requires your deliberate action. This development doesn’t require financial investment, nor permission from an outside agent. 

As a purpose-driven professional, these skills will aid in your navigating current crises, and others that life will inevitably throw your way. You see, we will get through this. And your passion, energy, sweat, tears, and unique voice are critical to the next phase of our growth as humans. Ours is a history of three steps forward, two steps back. This seems to be the way of things. Progress simply does not happen in the entire known physical universe by non-stop growth—there’s fire, there are floods. Your work isn’t any different. You’ve got to get deep with this. Root yourself in your purpose and keep believing better things are possible. If you don’t, nothing improves. Ever. 

Since the beginning of time, it has been incumbent on a subset of humanity to see that societies don't succumb to despair and hopelessness. You’ve chosen to be a part of this subset. If this makes you feel a little uncomfortable, if there is a voice inside of you that says, “Who, me?” know that this is normal, and that the humility and empathy with which you do your work is part of what makes you critical in this fight for the good. 

My bet continues to be on you. 

Action steps you can take today