Keep Calm and Carry On
Randy Wolken, President & CEO
“Keep Calm and Carry On,” was a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for World War II. The poster was intended to raise the morale of the British public, threatened with widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities. In 2000, it was rediscovered and reissued widely. It seemed to suit the times and bolster individuals throughout the world. Its message is one we need today.
The world is afraid. In particular, Coronavirus has spread throughout the world and is causing much anxiety and fear. We do need to take it seriously. We do need to take precautions. We do need to care for the sick – and for those who care for the sick. However, we also need to keep calm and carry on. As leaders, it is our job to be calm and collected during times of fear, sadness, and even tragedy. Just like the British during 1939, we need to find productive ways to remain calm and to do what we know needs to be done. We also need to do this with kindness and in a spirit of service.
I have found the hardest part of this phrase is keeping calm. Finding calm during the whirlwind of life is by far the most difficult thing for me. I am a person of action. I want to jump in and solve the problem. I want to reduce people’s fear and anxiety. I want people to be calm, happy, and productive. In order for that to happen, I must first be calm. As a leader, I must use all of my strengths and insights to find calmness first – so I can give it to others. It is one of the finest gifts a leader can give those he or she cares for. It’s what makes great leaders.
As a cadet at West Point, I always marveled at the courage – and calmness – in the face of grave danger and uncertainty of leaders in times of war, and especially in combat. How did they do it? How could they remain calm and make life and death decisions? How was Eisenhower able to command the Invasion of Normandy? How were Patton and MacArthur able to lead thousands of troops into heated and deadly battle? It was one of the traits I most wanted to have so I could serve others as a leader. Luckily, I did find how to remain calm and gain calmness, but it was not how I thought I would when I first started in my quest for answers.
Calmness, I believed, would result from eliminating the causes of anxiety or fear. Instead, it was finding calmness first that allowed me to function effectively so I could contribute to positive decision-making and outstanding outcomes. Keeping calm required a set of actions I needed to take before I could carry on. It remains one of the most important things I do every day now that the world changes so quickly and the threats seem non-stop and never-ending.
So how do I find calmness in the storm? For me, I start each morning in quiet prayer and thanksgiving. Over time, I have worked a full twenty minutes of quiet into my morning routine. I sit with my coffee and use a prayer word or phrase to center my being and not think about my worries and the day ahead. I seek calmness directly. When a worry enters my mind, I gently let it go with the word or phrase I have chosen. At first, five minutes seemed like a lifetime – and I was so resistant to it. I stuck with it – and I have seen the results throughout the rest of my day. At first I increased it to 10 minutes and over time increased to 20 minutes. This practice, along with being grateful for my life and the individuals who are in it, give me a calmness that has transformed my life despite the most challenging personal and professional situations.
I have extended my intentional calmness practices to many other parts of my day. I seek brief periods of quiet during my noon break and after my day ends at work. I have even learned to find calmness whenever I feel the need with a few short breaths and a smile. I believe everyone in my life deserves my calmness and I will do whatever I can to deliver that. If you need a beginning resource, try Stillness by Ryan Holliday. It’s an excellent description of how great people have used quiet or stillness to live life fully and to change the world. It’s excellent and I highly recommend it.
How do you find calm so you can deal effectively with the chaos all around you? Where can you add more calmness to your life – and, by extension, to the lives of those you love? How can you share how you find calmness with others so they too can “Keep Calm and Carry On”? I am convinced we can choose the right actions if we do so when we are calm. As leaders, we must find our calm first, which will inspire others and give us the space we need to excel.