Discovering light in the darkness

If the first half of this year is a sign of what’s to come, 2020 is shaping up to be a difficult year. While it feels like the challenges we face are unique, it’s not the first time in our country’s history that we’ve encountered tough times, nor will it be our last. And while it may seem like this time will never end, there’s reason for hope – that we can, and will, discover light in the darkness.

If you’ve never read Warren Buffer’s annual letter to the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, it’s worth 30 minutes of your time every year. Yes, a lot of the letter details financial and operational metrics, which can be skimmed over and aren’t necessarily all that interesting. What makes the letter worth reading is Buffet’s observations regarding market trends, the state of the economy, and current events. His 2018 letter, which you can read here, was particularly interesting and resonated with me when I read it. Given recent events, I decided to reread it, and it seems even more applicable today than when he wrote it.

Taking into account current life expectancy of 75-80 years, Buffet makes the observation that it’s been 3 lifetimes since George Washington was President of the United States. During the first two 77 year periods, Buffet notes how America grew into the most powerful nation on earth, surviving a Civil War that killed 4% of American males and a punishing period of massive unemployment during the Great Depression, which sounds eerily familiar today.

The last of these 77 year periods started in 1942, when the United States entered World War 2. It was a dark time in the world, but America has continued to prosper since then, albeit in a bipartisan manner. As Buffet recounts, “Since 1942, we have had seven Republican presidents and seven Democrats. In the years they served, the country contended at various times with a long period of viral inflation, a 21% prime rate, several controversial and costly wars, the resignation of a president, a pervasive collapse in home values, a paralyzing financial panic, and a host of other problems. All engendered scary headlines; all are now history.”

It is through this lens that I see the opportunity to find light in the darkness. As dark and difficult as this time is, it is not the first time we have faced a challenge, and it won’t be our last. What will define this moment, just as it has defined others, is our ability to face the challenge, to identify solutions, and to work together at becoming a better and stronger nation because of it.

Will it be easy, no.There will be challenges. As Seth Godin wrote so well earlier this week, it’s going to require tough conversations, listening, taking action, doing the work. But at the end of the day, it will be worth it.

So yes, these are challenging times. It feels like it will never end. But remember, we’ve been here before, and by working on the solutions, working together, we’ve overcome the challenges and ended up better for it. The optimist in me says we can do it. Even in these dark times, we will find a way to find light in the darkness.