[Life Back West] December 2009 – The Darkest Days

In earlier times, people in the northern hemisphere marked the winter solstice – the time of the year when daylight for the hemisphere is at its shortest – with rites and rituals. Even today those traditions live on with things like the California Revels and their event productions held in Oakland.

This time of year was regarded as marking the sun‘s ebbing presence in the sky, and the deepest moment of the cold winter’s dark. For countries that used the Gregorian calendar, introduced in 1582, winter solstice also flagged the waning grasp of the old year, and the promise of a new year around the corner.

As we move toward the end of a year that has been tough and challenging for many, it’s informative perhaps to think back on those earlier times and compare experiences. It’s tempting to assume that our times are somehow “better” – that modern science and progress has propelled us forward to a more superior point in time.

In those old days, speculation likely existed that the world would keep getting darker, not lighter, and that the warmth and light of the sun would be gone forever. Those winter solstice rituals may have had many purposes, the least of which was to pray for the return of fuller and warmer days.

In some respects our modern science has taken us both forward and backwards. It’s true that science tells us that the days after the solstice period of December 21st and December 22nd will return the northern hemisphere to longer daylight and greater warmth as the earth’s rotation tilts forward until it reaches summer solstice around June 21st and 22nd. What science didn’t do is predict with my unanimity or accuracy the huge economic downturn that has us living in a time glibbly known as the Great Recession. And science can’t tell us if – or when – the “good old times” will return, if ever.

Kent Price, with whom I had the pleasure of working at Fluid, Inc. was fond of saying something to the effect that “things are never as bad as they feel nor as good as they look.” It helped to keep that perspective when the five of us who served as the management team at Fluid steered the company through the depths of the dot-com bust with no cash, little business, and mostly integrity and our wits to keep the company afloat. While other bigger and much better funded firms such as Scient, Razorfish, or MarchFirst crashed to an end, we were somehow able to keep Fluid’s nose above water to be able to thrive in better times.

Whenever things look particularly dark, I recall the tough days at Fluid both as a gauge, as well as point of pride for the ability of some luck and a lot of will to keep an organization moving forward. Real leadership is not simply executing on the possible, but figuring out, taking Fluid as an example, of doing the impossible. As George Clason wrote, “Where the determination is, the way can be found.”

These darkest days of the year – as well as the slog to an economic recovery – will pass as we move through December 2009. New years – both the Gregorian calendar version on January 1st and the Lunar one on February 14th – are right around the corner.

And with a little luck, and a a lot of will, this New Year will mark the passing of the dark days of 2009.

Best wishes to you and yours this holiday season, and to better and brighter days ahead!