From time to time, I visit San Angelo in West Texas to visit relatives. This is the place that one great-grandfather, known as “Grandaddy Johnson” – for that’s what my father called him, settled after leaving the family farm in Tennessee. The Amercian Civil War of the 1860s had resulted in the family property and more being decimated. In my own years out in the world forging my own path, I’ve found it immensely helpful and grounding to recall the story of this 19th Century American who is a quintessential example of the Go West, Young Man movement.
In April 2006, I’d taken the lease to a rooftop gallery in Soho, London, surrounded by the backs of buildings on the four surrounding blocks that had my building in the middle. I found myself exhausted, on my hands and knees one evening, varnishing the floor, brush stroke by brush stroke. I broke down into tears on that old dirty wooden floor that had been worn down over the decades. I asked myself, What had I got myself into by committing to premises in Central London?
Then I remembered Grandaddy Johnson. Back in the late 1870s, he took the train out to what might have seemed like the middle of nowhere in West Texas and ultimately established himself, alongside his big brother who he’d followed, as one of the foremost businessman at the then-frontier edge. After leaving Tennessee, he reportedly stated that he would, never slap the back side of a mule again. Today, one can visit the restored site (now on the Register of Historic Places) of one of his many achievements, the fancy grocers Johnson & Taylor. (This is not to mention the livery stable, a stage line, mercantile business, banking business, real estate and, at one time, the role of Deputy Sheriff.)
In comparison with the challenges he’d confronted, I reminded myself, on what grounds could I justifiably be overcome by the trials and tribulations that I faced in 21st Century Britain?
After that early spring evening varnishing the floor, I learned to consciously take hold of difficult moments. I trained myself to take stock, think about the positives, and put the situation into perspective – always in context of the inspirational Grandaddy Johnson who had started with nothing and achieved so much.
I suggest that you, too, work out a clear reference point from your own life to harness in dark moments. Have a think about the inspirational stories of your family and friends, and store those in your mind so that you can reflect on them in moments of need. Reference points will help you maintain control over state of mind which will be fundamental in picking up yourself and thus continuing to take steps forward in your career and projects.