Safely back from Tanzania and settled into the festive period during my New Year in Highland Perthshire, I was presented with the unexpected event of enforced house arrest courtesy of Storm Frank. The usually serene and babbling River Lyon was transformed into a surging torrent of rapids as I found all of the usual access roads to the big wide world flooded in on all sides by ominously rising murky mud brown waters. This, it turned out, was a remarkable gift. As one who usually loves nothing more than marching off on a mission in some form or other, to be forced to stay put in one mercifully very cosy cottage with more logs than any individual could possibly burn in a lifetime (thanks mum and dad!), was actually a very good thing, not least as it gave me a chance to catch up on some reading.
"The Obstacle Is the Way" by Ryan Holiday is a great read for anyone needing a check-up from the neck-up in the face of adversity. Rather than seeing life's inevitable trials and tribulations as a barrier and a reason for despair, Holiday points out that the great stoics, leaders and innovators of history from Marcus Aurelius to Roosevelt have all not only stood up strong when times got tough, but actually embraced them to draw energy and brilliance back at whatever challenge they had in mind to tackle. They innately understood that each apparently adverse event in life is an opportunity to come back stronger. If this sounds trite and unrealistic to you, check out the example of Edison.
When one night in December 1914, half of his factory burned down with all his products and patents inside, despite knowing that the building was inadequately insured having been constructed with apparently flame retardant materials, he did not give up. Instead the man, by now in his mid sixties, told his son to gather his mother and friends to watch the stunning pyrotechnics that this chemical fire was producing, saying. "Find her. Bring her here. She will never see anything like this again as long as she lives." Rather than focussing on the value that all had been destroyed, instead he appreciated that now "All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.” The next day, the rebuild operation began and within 3 weeks, the factory was up and running again. Despite having lost $1m of value in that one fire, the team produced more than ever and the following year, produced more than $10m in revenue and continued to make major technological discoveries.
The other book that I particularly enjoyed, from a writer/founder based not 50 miles from my sofa, was "The shed that fed 1 million children" by Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow. This is the tale of Mary's Meals, a fantastic charity whose simple mission is that every child deserves a meal each day in their place of education, helping to provide the much needed incentive for impoverished children and their families to send their children not to work, but to school for nutrition and education. From humble beginnings in the midst of the Yugoslavian conflict, Magnus and his team have developed a sustainable model, where low cost, nutritious, locally sourced meals are provided by local community volunteers to children in school, guaranteeing at least one meal a day for children in areas where food is scarce in an environment of learning. This model has ensured that over 1 million children all over the world (but with particular focus on Malawi and Liberia) are supported by the programme every day, seeing school enrolment typically increasing by 30-50%, children able to learn, not distracted by gnawing hunger and communities transformed. Truly an inspiring read.