On an early morning walk a year ago this week, I was listening to David Goggins book Can’t Hurt Me.[1]  Specifically, I was listening to the chapter where he described his experience going through Hell Week as boat team 231.  Something he said really struck a note with me.  He indicated that when you’re going through hell and you’re focussed on yourself and the difficulties you’re experiencing, you become drained – both mentally and physically.  However, when you shift the focus from yourself to the people whom you’re leading, you become reinvigorated.  It gives you strength to soldier through.

When you’re a leader, it’s important to realize that you cast a long shadow.  One of the main paradoxes of leadership is that, while it starts with you, it’s not about you at all.  It’s about the people whom you lead.

Looking at it from the perspective of the members of your team, their fear/discomfort/anxiety/stress escalates when they perceive that the leader doesn’t have it together.

That insight shared by Goggins provided a real aha moment for me. It’s not that I wasn’t aware that leaders cast a big shadow, but for some reason hearing that from a Navy Seal made it resonate in a different way.  Goggins overcame the physical pain of a significant knee injury – not just by focusing on why he was going through that training – but by reminding himself that the other five men on his team were looking to him as their leader to set the tone.  If he gave up, he would be sending a signal to them that it was okay to give up as well.  He was not willing to do that.  With that motivation came a newer and deeper level of mental toughness and resolve.

As I reflected on Goggins’ story, I began to ask myself how I could incorporate this insight into my own leadership journey. I also wondered how I could incorporate it into the book I was writing at that time so that my readers would learn that they too can use the awesome responsibility of leadership to help them stay the course when the going gets tough.

Tap into Your Inner Strength

The reflections spurred by Goggin’s story led me to conclude that we all have untapped sources of inner strength and resolve that we can draw upon when it feels like we’re going through hell.  This is true whether you are…

  • a navy seal going through hell week;
  • a frontline manager trying to figure out how to lead a team that’s working from home;
  • a senior executive grappling with the pandemic-induced recession;
  • a parent worried about the impact that online schooling will have on your child’s future;
  • a college student anxious about your job prospects; or
  • an entrepreneur who finally made the leap to start your own business only to have the pandemic strike and present you with a future full of uncertainty.

The human spirit is astoundingly resilient.  Having plummeted to the depths of despair, with time and proper nurturing it has the capacity to rebound – soaring to euphoric heights. 

Unfortunately, whenever we find ourselves at the lower end of this emotional spectrum, we tend to become so immersed in the moment that we lose sight of the very reality that can help us to survive and even thrive in the face of adversity. 

The precise nature of that inner strength varies from person to person. I have concluded that what they all have in common is being grounded in belief in something bigger than ourselves and the challenge that is immediately before us. For some of us, that inner strength comes from a sense of purpose. For others, it’s our faith.

The Power of Purpose

Bestselling author Simon Sinek maintains that starting with The Purpose sets the stage for everything that follows. When the going gets tough, it’s the commitment to our higher purpose that provides the motivation required to keep going. As we navigate the difficult terrain, the how and the what are likely to change. However, the WHY (our purpose) stands firm and strengthens our resolve to persevere. A compelling WHY provides the turbo boost that we need to power through when it feels like we’re going through hell.

Have you identified your WHY? What is your compelling reason to keep moving when it feels like you’re going through hell?

Faith – Complete Trust in Someone or Something

With faith comes the conviction that despite how bad things are in the present moment, it will get better. This conviction is echoed in many of the great historical and contemporary inspirational writings. 

In Psalm 37 we find the following assurance:

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way.  Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand.

One of the greatest biblical characters, King David testified to this resilience of the human spirit when he proclaimed, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

This belief in the ability of the human spirit to overcome adversity is also echoed in secular writings.  In Dennis Perkins inspirational account of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition,[2] the author asserts “…if there is one quality that makes the difference at ‘The Edge’, it is the ability to remain optimistic in the face of daunting adversity.”

In this quotation from Perkins as well as in the Biblical excerpts, we find that the ability to survive and thrive in the face of adversity has its foundation in our inner strength.  For some that inner strength is rooted in faith in God; for others, it may be more intellectual than spiritual.   

The Way Forward

As we continue life’s journey – including in the post-pandemic era – we will encounter forces both in our professional and personal lives that will threaten our joy, create adversity, put obstacles in the way of our success…  However, we cannot allow such forces to completely derail us.

When we encounter such challenges and negative forces in our lives, we can draw upon our inner strength.  Whatever the source of that inner strength, we can channel its power outward.  In the words of Iyanla Vanzant, “We can think, speak and bring the best possible outcome into existence by focusing on where we are going, not on where we think we are.”

So what’s the best course of action when it feels like you’re going through hell? Keep moving – this too shall pass!

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Cant-Hurt-Me-Master-Your/dp/1544512287

[2] https://www.amazon.com/Leading-Edge-Leadership-Extraordinary-Shackletons/dp/0814431941





  • A very encouraging reading. However, one needs to be aware of this before encountering a difficult situation would give one a head start in overcoming obstacles.

    • Thank you for your comment, Katherina. It would most definitely help to have access to this type of information before encountering a difficult situation. For those who are now getting access to this type of support and encouragement, my wish is that it will help them to navigate this type of difficult terrain as they move into the future. I invite you to share the article with others in your network to help to bring that into fruition.

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