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Triumphing Over Crisis: It All Depends on Your Perspective

Sometimes motivation is forced upon us, thrusting us into the “un-comfort zone.” Whether we sink or swim depends on how we respond to the situation. How do you react during a crisis?

Here are two stories about two men who each faced a crisis late in life and how they dealt with it. One was a restaurant owner who went into bankruptcy at an age when most people think about retiring. The other was a janitor who was fired from a job he'd held for nearly 20 years.

The restaurant owner enjoyed a successful business in a small town at the edge of the Appalachian Mountains. It was a great location along busy U.S. Route 25. And, because he offered the best food and service around, his eatery was buzzing from sunup to sundown. But it wasn't to last.

Over the course of 26 years, he was honored by the state governor for his recipes. He was praised by the famous restaurant critic, Duncan Hines, in his prestigious column “Adventures in Good Eating.” Then in1956 a new super highway by-passed the little town. Two years later, the restaurant was closed and the property auctioned off to pay creditors. At 64 years of age, the restaurant owner was broke.

Unable to afford the cost of opening another restaurant closer to the highway, he reviewed his assets. All he had left was his knowledge and the delicious recipes that made his food so popular. So, he got into his car. Town by town, he drove, stopping at every restaurant along the way. He told the owners they would be more successful if they served his secret recipes under his brand name and paid him a royalty. Two years later, in 1960, he had 400 restaurants serving his food. By 1963 he was making a profit of $300,000 per year. And, in 1964, Colonel Harlan Sanders sold Kentucky Fried Chicken to investors for $2 million, plus a lifetime salary of $75,000 per year.

The janitor started his job at St. Peter's Church in London as a teenager. Over the years he married and raised a family and enjoyed a perfectly predictable profession with solid job security. That is, until the new vicar came along.

It was around the turn of the twentieth century when the new vicar, a stickler for decorum, took over St. Peter's Church. When he learned that the janitor could not read, he gave him three months in which to learn. Quite depressed by the news, the man thought it might make him feel better if he smoked a cigarette.

As he walked home, the janitor searched for a tobacco shop. There was usually one on every block, but there was none near the church. He walked block after block without finding one. By the time he reached his house he knew exactly what he was going to do.

With his meager savings, he opened a tobacco shop near the church. It was an immediate success. With his profits he opened a second shop, then a third, and before long he had thriving tobacco shops all over London.

Ten years later, he met with his banker about investing his earnings. The banker gave him some papers to sign. The man asked the banker to read the papers to him, explaining that he didn't know how. Shocked, the banker exclaimed, "You are so successful, just think where you'd be today if you could read!" Albert Edward Foreman smiled and sighed, "Yes, I'd be the janitor at St. Peter's Church!" (based on a true story by Somerset Maugham).

It’s often pointed out that in Chinese, the symbol for the word "crisis" is the same symbol used for the word "opportunity"—two sides of the same coin. In other words, it's all in our perspective. Will you find the opportunity in your next crisis?