Spotting the Silver Lining in Cloudy Times by Peter Barron Stark


UPDATED: The world is mourning the loss of Nelson Mandela, a revered human rights champion who is often described as both fearless and humble. Despite being held prisoner for twenty-seven years, Mandela never gave up hope and his positive vision for the end to apartheid in South Africa. His experience puts our typical daily challenges into perspective.

Here are a few tips to help you stay positive, even in the toughest of situations.

1. Have belief and confidence in yourself. Gloria Gaynor said it best: “I will survive.” When you think about it, you have either solved or survived every problem that you have experienced in your life up to this point. This one will be no different. You might even learn something.

2. Practice positive self-talk. Your words will become your thoughts. Your thoughts will become your beliefs. Your beliefs will control your actions. Saying to yourself either, “There is nothing I can do in this situation,” or, “If anyone can figure this out, I can,” will determine whether you take action to improve the situation or concede defeat. Most people want to be around those who are able to verbalize a positive, can-do winning attitude.

3. Make a plan. Spend the time to make a plan of what needs to be done to improve your condition. Complaining does not work. Blaming others around you…even God, will not work to change your situation. The only thing blaming will do is absolve you of any responsibility to improve your condition.

4. Take action. Peter Drucker, the late management guru once said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” In 1979, I was on a United States mountain climbing team that went to the Soviet Union to attempt the ascent of Mt. Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe. There were a ton of risks on this climb. The weather, the altitude, and even potential death. But seven of the seventeen on our team made it to the top and I walked away with a powerful life-long lesson. You cannot improve a bad situation without taking action. As tough as this climb was, I kept putting one foot in front of the other and it worked.

5. Ask for help. Whatever your difficult situation, someone has been there before you and most likely has a solution that will help.

6. Express gratitude and appreciation. This one is simple. People are motivated to help people who are appreciative and truly grateful. Even better, be so grateful that it brings you joy to help others less fortunate than you. On really down days, remember, it could always be worse!

7. Celebrate life. My 92-year-old father recently said, “I am so grateful that I lived long enough to enjoy the internet.” What an awesome attitude. If you really feel that today is that bad, just try missing out on one day: that would be even worse. At the end of your life, what will you be saying you are glad to have lived long enough to experience?

Some people are described as pessimists. Others may describe themselves as realists. However, when it comes to overcoming life’s obstacles, I am betting on the optimists; those who, like Nelson Mandela, can spot the silver lining even when under life’s darkest of clouds.

Peter Barron Stark Companies is a nationally recognized management consulting company that specializes in employee engagement surveys, executive coaching, and leadership and employee training. For more information, please visit

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