Skip Navigation
February, 21, 2024  |    |  

Reflections of our CEO: Return to Joy

At this time of polarization, conflict, climate crisis, and pandemic recovery, the dawn of the new year has for many felt hard. How might we find the joy to fortify ourselves?

Mike Rowlands
Partner and CEO of Junxion, Mike has spent more than 20 years working to catalyse social responsibility and sustainability.

Each year, I spend some time over the seasonal holidays reflecting on the year that was, and setting intentions for the year ahead. This year, alongside some goals in our business and some more for my own fitness, I explored the things in 2023 that truly brought me joy. Not surprisingly, most of them were times with my family and most treasured friends. More of that in ‘24, please!

Two other keys to joy were clear when I looked back at my 2023: One is best described by the words of a meditation teacher, who speaks of self-compassion, describing it as, “an unconditional friendliness toward self….” Many people in roles like mine report anxiety, ‘imposter syndrome,’ and self-critical voices that distract them from their true worth and capacity. The work of self-compassion is “to uncover what has been buried [by] the everyday ups and downs of life.” 

I can correlate my experience of joy in life to those times when I’ve maintained the greatest self-compassion—quieting the nagging voices in my mind through meditation, patient reflection, and exercise. In 2024, these will be daily practices.

The third key to joy is more elusive, but also incredibly powerful.

“What is the Shape of Your life?”

This intriguing question is posed by Bruce Feiler in his insightful book, Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age. In the fourth chapter, he expounds on his research into our shared, essentially human capacity to seek and find meaning in our lives.

Feiler’s research expands on Victor Frankl’s belief that the search for meaning is the defining characteristic of the human condition. Feiler names three essential steps in that search—his ‘ABC of Meaning’:

  • Agency: “Autonomy, freedom, creativity, mastery. The belief that you can impact the world around you.” 
  • Belonging: “Relationships, community, friends, family. The people that surround and nurture you.”
  • Cause: “A calling, a direction, a mission, a purpose. Transcendent commitment beyond yourself that makes your life worthwhile.”

What on its face appears profoundly complex—tapping into the essential power of meaning—may in fact be inspiringly simple. Where do you feel agency, in these early days of 2024? Where are you finding a sense of belonging? And what is the cause that motivates your life and work?

Holding Two Truths: Recalling ‘The Stockdale Paradox’

Perhaps you have a deep sense of agency. Perhaps you feel a sense of belonging to a community or affinity group. Perhaps you’re clear on the cause that drives your sense of meaning. And perhaps you’re still despairing in the face of recent confirmations we’ve already passed the terrifying threshold of 1.5ºC of planetary warming, or your business feels at-risk due to higher interest rates and looming recession, or because polarized politics have gone from the merely pandering to the utterly pathetic.

Perhaps there’s a ‘D’ to be added to Feiler’s ABC: Determination.

In his extraordinarily successful book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, Jim Collins outlines what he calls the ‘Stockdale Paradox,’ named for Admiral Jim Stockdale, who was “the highest-ranking United States military officer in the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prisoner-of-war camp during the height of the Vietnam war.

The Stockdale Paradox is “a powerful psychological duality.” Leaders and management teams that exhibited an embrace of the paradox in Collins’s research “On the one hand… stoically accepted the brutal facts of reality.

Confront the brutal facts. And chase your cause anyway.

On the other hand, they maintained an unwavering faith in the endgame, and a commitment to prevail… despite the brutal facts.”

Stoicism has made quite a resurgence in recent years. Personally, I prefer to frame this determination in part as a trust In abundance. And this trust can be a choice. For many years, I’ve thought that courage could well be defined as ‘optimism during failure.’ The prolific American, buddhist nun Pema Chodron (whom I quote above) talks of this in her inspiring book, The Places That Scare You, the subtitle of which I find to be compelling: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times.

Churchill said it differently: “If you’re going through hell, keep going!”

And perhaps Dory of Finding Nemo fame said it best: “Just keep swimming!”

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

– Victor Frankl

As we settle into 2024, what will be your approach to cultivating joy?

May you find fearlessness in these difficult times, tapping into your innate capacity for compassion. May you find vitality among friends, family, and community. May you relish the pursuit of a compelling cause.

And may you find the determination to prevail, no matter the ‘brutal facts.’

Let’s Be Audacious, Together…

Be well,

Be love,