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The Refining Cycle: Steps to Life-Long Growth

Warwick Fairfax

October 28, 2019

You may have been through a crucible experience, a gut-wrenching, even humiliating experience.  It may be a business or professional failure, or it may be a health or family challenge.  Whatever it is, the course of your life has forever been changed.  You have faced the fork in the road: whether to wallow in the pain of your crucible experience or to try to move beyond it. You have chosen to move ahead.

But how do you keep moving on after your crucible experience — growing, progressing even healing?  It starts with reflecting on your crucible moment.  Whether it was your fault or not, examine what happened.  What are the lessons you can learn from it?  Were you in the wrong position?  Did you trust the wrong people?  A crucible experience can also reveal something about your inherent wiring.

Coming out of a crucible experience, you need to understand your design.  What are you good at?  What are you not good at?  Often our friends and family who know us well can give us helpful input.  Once you understand your design, think about a vision, a calling that you are off-the-charts passionate about. It could come out of your crucible experience, perhaps something you don’t want anyone else to go through.  Or it could be something you feel would be amazing if it existed. It is a vision anchored in your fundamental beliefs that you will do whatever it takes to make succeed.  You even have a team around you of fellow travelers who are just as passionate about the vision as you are.

This type of vision, coming out of your crucible experience, that is in line with your design, anchored in your fundamental beliefs, which you and your team are passionate about, will have a much greater chance of succeeding.  This vision, if it is a great vision, will help you and your team lead a life of significance, a life that is on purpose that helps others and, in some sense, makes the world a better place.  Such a vision of significance will leave a legacy that your family and team will be proud of, and can often lead to some sense of healing — bringing purpose to the pain of your crucible experience.

This all sounds good.  But is it as simple as it looks?  In a word, no.  As you get refined, get clearer on the lessons of your crucible experience, understand more how you are wired, and get clarity on your vision, you will find it is not a one-and-done event.  It is a refining cycle that will likely take years.  As you go through each refining cycle, which may be different jobs or career paths, you have the opportunity to learn more about yourself.  You can learn more about the lessons from your crucible experience.  You can learn more about your design.  And your vision can be refined or even evolve — as can the exact form your life of significance will take.

So how does this refining cycle work in practice?  Let me share the refining cycle I have been on.

Warwick’s Refining Cycle

In late August 1987, I launched an AUS $2.25B takeover of the 150-year-old Australian family business I grew up in.  I had prepared my whole life to take a leading position within the family company, with an undergraduate degree from Oxford, working on Wall Street, and having my MBA from Harvard Business School.  I had wanted to change management, see that the company was run along the ideals of the founder, and make our family business safe from corporate raiders.  Despite bringing in new management that increased operating profits by 80 percent, the debt we needed to complete the takeover was so large that when Australia suffered a recession in late 1990, the company went bankrupt. This was my crucible experience.  I felt like I had let my parents and family down.  It was devastating emotionally and spiritually, as well as financially.

The first step in the refining cycle was to examine what happened and try to learn from the experience.  I realized that I am a reflective adviser, not a take charge Rupert Murdoch-style leader.  Running a large media company was a terrible fit for someone wired like me.  The vision of restoring the company to the ideals of the founder and seeing that it was well run may have been a good vision, but it was not my vision.  It was more my parents’ vision.

The first step professionally was to take a job at an aviation services company in Annapolis Md., where we live.  I did financial and business analysis, and while I was not getting paid what my peers who had been at Harvard Business School were getting paid, I was happy for the work.  I realized that I had an analytical ability that enabled me to perform the work well.

The next cycle began in 2003, when I began going down the track to become an executive coach.  I felt that I had been playing small and not using all the gifts God had given me.  I went to a woman who did mid-career assessments and was herself an executive coach.  She said I had a good profile to become an executive coach.  I found I loved asking questions and helping leaders bring their visions to reality.  It was a good fit.  I learned something else about how I was wired and what I loved doing.

Through coaching, often through the questions I asked, I found I had a leadership voice and a leadership perspective.  I had not thought of myself as a leader after the disastrous takeover of the family business.  Then in 2008, I gave a seven-minute talk at the non-denominational church we go to in Annapolis.   The theme was about what I had gone through during the takeover, the mistakes I had made and what I learned.  What amazed me was that in the weeks and months afterwards, people came up to me and said my talk had helped them.  Yet I was the only one in the congregation who had been a former media mogul.  How could they relate to my story?  Somehow, they could.

This led me to realize that I could write a book about my story and the lessons I had learned from my mistakes that could help other leaders and other people.  My confidence in the idea that I did have a perspective on leadership that could help leaders and people in general was growing.  The 2008 talk in church and the resulting period when I started to write a book on my experiences and leadership perspective were key moments in my refining cycle.  My vision had evolved and expanded to helping leaders become better leaders and learn from their mistakes.

As I was trying to get my book published, I came to realize that in order to do this, I needed a branding and marketing plan.  This led me to a great branding and marketing team in Denver — SIGNAL.csk — and great public relations and communications advice through ROAR.  The resulting brand and message is Crucible Leadership.

The vision has again evolved and grown to helping leaders at all levels get beyond their crucible experiences to enable them to lead lives of significance.

This is the latest refining cycle I am on. I now have a clear brand and message in Crucible Leadership, I write regular blogs, post on social media, have a video, and am in the process of launching a podcast, Beyond the Crucible.

A critical component to my vision evolving and growing, and even to understanding how I am wired, is the support that I have received along the way.  This journey has been grounded in my faith that God loves me unconditionally as he does all of us, and the support of fellow people of faith.  The support of my family, especially my wife, has been critical.  Each step of the way professionally I have sought out help.  When I was coaching, I had a mentor coach who helped guide me.  With Crucible Leadership I have an amazing branding, marketing, public relations, and communications team with .  They have helped me crystalize the vision of Crucible Leadership and have been with me each step of the way as we have made the vision become reality.

A vision does not come to reality without help, ideally from a team that is as passionate about the vision as I am.  I am blessed to have such a team.

Each of the refining cycles I have been through, from the aftermath of losing the family business, to working for an aviation services company, to executive coaching, to writing a book after speaking in church, and now Crucible Leadership, have enabled me to learn more about myself and have clarified, crystalized, and even expanded the vision.

The key point is that the refining cycle is not a one-and-done process.  We all wish we could do all this learning about ourselves and figure out a vision that we are passionate about in one long weekend.  Well, that is not reality.  It takes work and pain.  It can take years.  It takes being honest with yourself and allowing people to help you.  It takes time, patience, and perseverance.  But it is possible.  As hard as it is, it is definitely mission possible.


  • Where in the refining cycle are you?
  • What is the next step in your refining cycle of learning from your crucible experience?
  • Do you have the team you need to further refine and hone your vision and to help bring it to reality
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