In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need to deal with setbacks in the work world—but, in reality, there will always be challenges that you need to work through. Sometimes they can seem overwhelming, whether that’s because of staffing problems, cash flow challenges, or something else entirely. At our family farm in the 1980s, weather conditions also contributed to what seemed like impossible-to-manage adversity (more about that soon!).
In this post, I’ll share six strategies that can help you to overcome adversity, gleaned from experience.
#1 Logically Assess the Situation
Sometimes, when you’re going through a difficult time, all may seem more dire than it really is. So, if you’ve feeling overwhelmed by challenging circumstances around you, see if you can put them into context so you can respond appropriately. It may make sense to talk to trusted friends and colleagues to get their perspectives. Many times, you can move forward and get through adverse conditions pretty quickly.
Other times, though, the situation you’re in really is serious. In our case in the 1980s, a combination of economics for farmers and a severe hailstorm caused us to lose our farm. Literally. The land, equipment, everything sold at a sheriff’s auction. So, if you’re in a really tough spot, I empathize.
#2 Be Patient, Persistent and Positive
If you’ve decided that you’re going to move forward with your business and get it back on track, then this is my advice as you regain your equilibrium. If you’re facing adversity, it may take time to sort through your problems and come up with workable solutions. Thus, the need for patience—and persistence.
If you’ve decided that you want to save your business (rather than deciding the adversity is too great), then it helps to do all you can to maintain a positive attitude. In our case, our father’s attitude really helped, especially one of his sayings: “None of us,” he likes to say, “is as smart as all of us.” So, none of us were left to flounder around to try to solve the problem all alone.
#3 Be Aware of Your Surroundings and New Opportunities
Although not every problem is necessarily an opportunity in disguise, it’s true that many are. If you’re used to running your business in a certain way, you may be missing out on different approaches that are presenting themselves to you. Maybe the disguised opportunity won’t solve all of your difficulties, but perhaps it can serve as an income stream as you work your way through what your business will look like in the future.
In our case, it was a squash blossom that dramatically changed the way we approached farming. We’d lost our actual farm, but there were neighbors and friends who helped us so that we could continue growing crops in a small way, then sell our produce at local farm markets.
One day, a chef approached me and wanted to know if we grew and sold squash blossoms. Now, we’d grown zucchini for 30 years, but didn’t know anything about selling the flowers. Eventually, I brought her some—and, the next thing you knew, she wanted radicchio. Arugula.
We didn’t know anything about these kinds of crops, either, but we ultimately decided to go in this direction, growing specialty produce for chefs. (Or, more accurately, everyone but my father thought we should keep growing for farmers’ markets, but he made the decision—exactly the right one, as it turned out—to grow for chefs.)
What about your business? Have you had people ask about products or services that you don’t offer—but could? If so, have you thought through the possibilities? I’m not suggesting that you should chase down every single rabbit trail, but it’s quite possible that the solution to your current business problems could be right in front of you.
#4 Work Hard and Stay Focused Yet Flexible
If your business challenges have caused you to change direction or otherwise manage operations differently, then it’s likely that you’ll need to work pretty hard, even more so than before. In a sense, you’d be doing something brand new, and that almost always requires more effort.
It makes sense to stay focused on goals, imagining what you plan to accomplish—while still remaining open to more evolution in your business model.
In our case, I spent a whole lot of time, once we’d decided that our new customers were chefs, going from restaurant to restaurant, asking them what we could grow for them. This was before the days of PowerPoint, so I’d take along slides of what we were growing and project images on a screen or wall.
#5 Be Prepared for Changes
As your business evolves, you probably won’t be able to do everything the way you’ve always done. As for us, my father studied how people in his grandparents’ generation farmed. Through his research, we found ways to sustainably farm our increasing acreage to get out of the commodity-farming grind, allowing us to focus on building healthy soil for healthy produce and people.
Depending upon the type of business you have, the emergence of Gen Z, as just one example, may cause you need to make changes to provide your customers what they need. Changing technology may provide opportunities for you—or could move your competitors ahead of you, causing you to once again need to make changes in how you operate.
Although this may be a bit of a cliché, it’s also true: about the only thing you can count on to stay the same in your business is the need for change.
#6 Enjoy the Journey
In life, in business, in farming, there is no “done.” There is no magic finish line. As you solve your difficulties, your business may very well grow—which leads to problems associated with growing pains. So, wherever you are in building or growing your business, remember to appreciate where you are and to thank your team and customers.
Lee Jones was one of the first farmers to ever receive the James Beard Foundation’s award for Who’s Who in Food & Beverage, and was the first farmer to judge the popular Food Network show “Iron Chef America”—and he sustainably grows fresh vegetables.