Marc Andreessen has a pep talk he gives entrepreneurs where he reminds them, “it’s always darkest before things go completely black.” Heavily sarcastic for a pep talk? Yes. Even more heavily truthful? Yeah, you better believe it.
We humans tend to experience emotions on a relative scale. We are more likely to experience something as “good” when it’s in contrasted against something “bad” or at least “less good,” and vice versa. The ice cream on a December night isn’t as satisfying as the ice cream on a steamy July night for a reason. The seasonal inverse is true of hot cocoa.
When stuff gets bad, it’s hard to remember that this contrast rule is in effect. We are constantly measuring against where we just were. It’s even harder to remember that over time things will tend to revert back towards average. That’s not an excuse to keep eating ice cream until July rolls around, but when things are bleak, a statement like Andreesen’s prepares us to stomach the cycle. It really is a pep talk.
Sometimes we don’t need to hear “it’ll be ok,” but “it’s always darkest before things go completely black.” We need a reminder to look forward and remember how contrast is more powerful than whatever our current feeling is. This is especially true as we help people (like our client’s) to anticipate what feeling comes next in the midst of a challenging environment. It may very well get worse, but in time, there’s a laundry list of reasons and actions that we can take today towards an even better future.