The Only Thing We Can Control

This article was written by Brett Hagler and published by Faith Driven Entrepreneur


Last year, we welcomed the most unprecedented, the most uncertain, and arguably, the most historic year of our careers: 2020.

Years from now, we’ll all tell stories to our grandchildren about COVID-19 and how it changed —quite literally—everything. At the onset of this new world, what became most important to me and my team was that we would tell stories we were proud to have lived—yes, even amidst a global pandemic.

While the country was preparing for one of the worst recessions since the great depression, I held on to faith that New Story would not see any kind of decline.

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. –Jeremiah 17:7-8

Despite a massive surge in unemployment, past due rent payments, and bankruptcies, my team learned one incredibly important lesson: There’s only one thing we can control… Our character. We have to trust God for the rest.

And let me tell you, that’s hard to do. As the CEO of a nonprofit organization, the idea of an uncertain economy, travel restrictions, and international projects forcibly put on hold was terrifying for our future. Our organization’s mission is to pioneer innovative solutions to end global homelessness… That’s particularly hard to do when travel is completely restricted, we can’t physically gather to work on solutions, and an uncertain economy makes it more difficult for everyone to give towards charitable causes they believe in.

It would have been easy to panic and start preparing for the worst. But instead, we, as a team, decided to come to grips with the fact that we can’t control this pandemic; thus, we can’t control how it impacts the future of our organization. Only God can do that.

So, we went to work on the controllable instead. And it was the most valuable thing we did all year.

I started by sending my team a letter. Here’s an excerpt:

Some teams will fall apart from uncontrollable circumstances, but many more will fall apart due to individuals only thinking of themselves, allowing fear to overtake their character and their values. We will tell a different story. We will not fall for reasons in our control. When it comes to our effort and our attitude, we will not decline, we will strengthen, and we will rise… 

Our opportunity to get stronger comes with a significant challenge. You will be mentally pushed, and we will ask you to work as hard, if not harder, than you have ever worked over the next ninety days. 

The primary objective during Q2 is to strengthen our character. When we look back ten years from now at COVID-19, it will matter less if we fall short of an OKR than if we fall short in becoming better team members, better people. By the end of this, it will matter way more about who we’ve become than what we’ve achieved… 

This quarter is the season that will establish leaders for the next decade. This is a season where our reputations, for better or for worse, will be imprinted… Our character, more so than our OKRs, will win others and make us better as a team for the long haul… 

Once the letter was drafted and sent, we also cut 30% of our monthly operational expenses —something else we could control. In addition, we eliminated nonessential line items. We prioritized our team and our culture because we had faith that this season would make us more creative, resourceful, entrepreneurial, tenacious, and grittier for the future. It was the only way we would be able to advance our mission and impact more families around the world long term. 

And it worked.

Within weeks of what felt like a worldwide shutdown, our team came together to birth a creative idea to help more people in the U.S. avoid eviction. We normally only work in Latin America, but with our international work paused, our team went to work creating solutions to help families avoid falling into a cycle of homelessness right here in the U.S.

We called it The Neighborhood.

The Neighborhood was a simple but transformational idea: Create a monthly giving program that would allow Americans to help pay the rent of other Americans who were previously employed but suddenly jobless due to the pandemic.

People from around the country came together and helped 361 families stay in their homes. We’ve always dreamed about working in the U.S. So, when the opportunity presented itself, we were ready because we were committed to focusing on areas within our control.

By the grace of God, we were able to resume our work in Latin America. But that didn’t mean the end of The Neighborhood. Today, The Neighborhood has grown into a generous

community of donors who are committed to ending homelessness with monthly donations. Because of their monthly gifts, we will be able to serve many more communities in need around the world.

Beyond new projects, there were a few other areas our team decided to work on during this uncertain season… Other areas we could control:

  1. Integrity: We will do the right thing even when it is the hard thing.

  2. Generosity: We will operate out of an abundant framework rather than a scarce one.

  3. Attitude: We will respond with a growth mindset, and we will always persevere.

  4. Love: We will actively check in on others, pray for others, and care for some the way we wish we could care for all.

  5. Standards: We will continue being a team of founders expressing gratitude and empathy and pursuing excellence with humility.

  6. Humility: We will value others above ourselves, not looking to our own interests but each of us looking to the interests of others.

Those six characteristics are things we can all control. As leaders, as founders, as team members, we all have the opportunity to model the impact a character-driven team can have when they decide to control who they become through a crisis… and leave the rest to God.

I believe we all have this in us. It’s hard work to relinquish control, but it’s this type of

surrender that God uses to create beautiful things out of dust.

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger, but recognize the opportunity.” –John F. Kennedy

2020 was a hard year for everybody. But it was also a season full of opportunity. And because we chose to see the crisis through that perspective, we continued to bear fruit in the drought. It was a lesson well worth learning.

I hope you’ll take this lesson and apply to your own business or organization. Together, let’s live out stories we’ll be proud to share. And the best way to do that is to practice—especially in a crisis—controlling what you can control and trusting God for the rest.