Right now Silicon Valley is hoarding outsize credit for innovation and disruption of the status quo. I call b.s. Innovation and disruption have gone on for eons, and they’re driven by something so obvious that we rarely talk about it: the resiliency of the human spirit in the face of life-crushing odds. It’s called survival, and through it, we innovate our way out of the abyss.
I know this from experience. Three years ago, my house and all my worldly possessions burned to the ground in a swift and terrifying forest fire. After the ashes cooled, I couldn’t wait to don a hazmat mask and gloves, grab a sieve and a shovel and go through the ruins, hoping to reclaim my former life by finding some artifact or treasure. I never found one. Eventually I let go because, really, how long could I keep digging for something I would never find?
The disruption went on for another year as we, a family of four (two adults and two teenagers), decided to live in a trailer while our house was being rebuilt. (I never want to deal with a black tank again in my lifetime.) But we didn’t crack. We became stronger, better. We proved that we would survive. Yes, rising from the ashes is a cliché, but I happen to know that it’s also literally true. There was life before the fire and life after, and the two couldn’t be more different.
I share this because this month’s cover story on Jen Hidinger reminded me that so many of us owe our current success, drive and ambition to loss. Hidinger lost her husband to cancer just as they were about to open a restaurant. In the aftermath, she found herself digging around the ruins of their life, shook herself out of it and then decided to innovate, opening that restaurant and expanding its purpose to become a community source for good.
Tragedy has a way of doing that to people, and especially to entrepreneurs like Hidinger. Self-pity isn’t in their nature—and, as I ultimately learned, it’s not in mine. Instead we use disaster as a clean slate to say, “Screw it; I’ve lost everything. I’ve got nothing left to lose,” and we rebuild our lives and businesses in disruptive and innovative ways. In Hidinger’s case, she has managed to serve amazing food as well as touch and impact many lives.
Ruin, it turns out, is a mere prelude to discovering our best selves. When we recognize this, only good can follow.