Why Power and Beauty Rise from the Hottest Ashes

Jul 19, 2021

Some crises erupt without warning. An explosive, defining event (a diagnosis, an accident, an unexpected death) sends debris from our "before" lives ricocheting around us. Overcome with disbelief and grief, we grapple with the reality that nothing will be the same.

Other crises emerge slowly. A marriage that has simmered with tension for years finally boils over. We find ourselves depleted after years of being in a job that never fit our passions or talents, now wondering if we’ve wasted years of our life. The demise happens gradually, but wreckage remains all the same.

Whether through eruption or erosion, a crisis leaves us wondering how we will pick up the pieces. It's easy to feel powerless in those moments, but we actually have many choices that make all the difference.

Crisis as a Choice Point

The Greek word for crisis, krisis, means “to distinguish, choose, or decide.” In truth, crisis is more about the choices we make in the aftermath of challenge than any particular trigger. Think about the choices faced in each of these crisis contexts:

  • In medical diagnostics, crisis denotes a major turning point in a disease state -- the moment that determines whether a patient is headed toward death or recovery. What treatment is needed? How urgent is the timing? What happens next is the potential turning point of “dis-ease.”
  • Publicly, crisis often refers to political or economic upheaval. The crises triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, for example, revealed the broken foundations of our heath care, political, and social justice systems. Whether we face these challenges with apathy or activism changes the course of history.
  • Entering the scene in the mid-20th century came identity crises. Navigating adolescence, mid-life, or retirement can make us question who we are and our value in the world. The choices we make through these stages determine the person we become over the course of a lifetime.

 In all these contexts, successfully navigating a crisis requires that we make brave choices in moving forward. We’ve been thrown into the proverbial lion’s den without permission, but now it’s up to us to find a path out.

It’s in this very moment of vulnerability that we face possibilities for growth in equal measure to our pain. It's not easy, and we can't go it alone; but how we decide to go on matters.

Through the crises in our lives, be they small, big, personal, professional, or something all-encompassing (like Covid-19), we do have the choice to be curious or closed, reflective or reactive.

The Opportunity to Rebuild

 Even in the midst of crisis, we have choices. We can reach out. We can ask for help. We can embrace both the freedom and responsibility to rebuild.

 Instead of an "after-action review" (often used in organizational, medical, or public safety disasters), we can bravely face the disturbance of crisis by reframing its meaning in real-time.

 This approach doesn’t diminish the turmoil that crisis brings. In fact, it often requires us to grapple with painful truths about loss and suffering more honestly. The outcome, however, can be transformative, enriching the quality and impact of our lives far beyond the crisis event.



This is a modified re-telling of a few pages from Chapter 2 of my book Never Waste a Crisis. The rest of that chapter explores the five elements of crisis (catalyst, collapse, complexity, confusion, and control) along with our physical, mental, and emotional responses to crisis.



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