There is nothing positive about adversity, yet no story worth telling has ever been told without it and greatness has never been achieved without facing it
Adversity surrounds us, perhaps more so than at any other time in our history or at least since World War II. It permeates virtually every aspect of our lives and in a seemingly endless variety of forms.
On a broad scale and at this very moment, there is adversity surrounding our political beliefs and uncertainty as to whether we are, in fact, divided or simply at a crossroads as to which direction we are headed. We are in the midst of extreme environmental adversity, experiencing multiple natural disasters and asking more questions about the health of our planet. Additionally, there is economic adversity concerning unemployment, the size of the federal deficit, and whether we still have a middle class.
Racial tensions have heightened. Gender biases are in the spotlight. Oh, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic that has dominated the last year and may influence us for years to come.
We also deal with adversity on a more personal level regardless of what is happening or not happening around us. The loss of a job, the death of a loved one, divorce, an accident are all examples of trauma and adversity that many of us have or will have to live through at some point.
On a smaller scale, most of us work through other forms of adversity daily, whether it is career related or of a personal nature. We experience conflict with co-workers. We are affected by what is happening in our friends’ lives. We are trying to work through family situations.
Adversity exists, in various forms, all around us all the time. It is entirely comprised of negative energy and defined by trauma, conflict, grief, and aggravation. There is nothing positive about it, yet no story worth telling has ever been told without it and greatness has never been achieved without facing it.
Adversity is not something that you look forward to or wish upon anybody, yet it can’t be something that defines how we live either. We can’t spend our time worrying about what is around every corner or dreading the next bad thing that we will encounter.
This begs the question, if we are going to experience it no matter what we do or how we live, what can we do about it?
When I face a problem or even a heavy subject, my best ammunition is always to break that problem or subject down into smaller, more manageable pieces. In the case of adversity, there are three distinct facets that are applicable regardless of the type or scope of adversity present.
Let’s start with the facet that I think is the easiest to define and that is the facet that is found in the middle of the adverse situation or circumstance. Some people believe this is the most difficult facet of adversity and they may be right. I look at it a little differently. I believe that this facet of adversity is not only the easiest to define, it is the easiest to manage.
Speaking from a leadership perspective, I have found that it is harder to lead when times are good then when you are in the middle of a crisis or extreme challenge. When times are good; the tasks multiply, varying opinions flourish, and distractions are abundant. When you and your team face a crisis: the task is singular, everyone tends to rally around the cause, and personal and collective focus intensifies.
When adversity is front and center, your choices are limited, and your goal is clear. You do what you can to effectively manage it and get over whatever hurdles are presented. During adversity, your objective is to manage your way out of it and move on to whatever is next.
This may be the easiest facet of adversity to manage, but it does not mean it is easy. Adversity has a way of taxing our mental and emotional capacities, especially at that time when you cannot clearly see the end of it and you may be so far into it that it is difficult to remember what your life was like prior to the trauma you are facing.
How we manage these times is personal to each of us. There isn’t a singular right way of going about it, save for being true to your individual methodology. If you gain strength through the comfort of loved ones, rely on them to help get you through. If you value independent counsel, identify an experienced therapist or other professional and talk to that person as much as is necessary for you to begin to feel better. You get the idea.
After adversity, during the post adversity facet, things can get a little more complicated. We all try to learn from our mistakes. We know that it is important to try to extract the best from every situation, but adversity, particularly if it is severe and/or prolonged, can really make it difficult for us to move forward.
Lasting negative effects can zap us of energy and enthusiasm, making it difficult to find joy in our routine or to look forward to better times. During these times, the tendency may be to inadvertently focus on all the things we cannot control, which may lead to a feeling of insufficiency or incompetence. This is precisely why it is essential, during this stage, that we give ourselves full credit for everything we have accomplished to get through the difficult times. We may feel emotionally drained, mentally lost, and physically tired, but we did what needed to be done to get through that adversity and successfully achieve our goal. Sometimes, survival itself is an accomplishment even if we don’t feel great immediately afterward.
It is during this facet of adversity when it becomes clear that the true tragedy is not that you have suffered it. The true tragedy occurs when we let ourselves continue to suffer despite having effectively managed it and gotten through it. The sooner we can realistically put it behind us and focus on what we can control as well as the things that we have to look forward to, the better and stronger we will be.
The last facet of adversity occurs when there is no extreme adversity present in our immediate surroundings or in our personal life. If we are living these moments in fear of the next round of trouble, we are missing out many of the best things about life. Being aware of the negatives of a situation or the potential consequences of an event or circumstance helps us to be prepared and capable of handling whatever comes our way. If that awareness transfers to fear and dread, we lose.
When we are fortunate enough to experience times when we are only dealing with the routine adversity of our daily lives, we must make it a point to savor those moments, to thoroughly enjoy the peace of mind that accompany those times. We will be better equipped to handle adversity if we have built up our mental and emotional strength during times of joy and happiness. In other words, the best preparation for dealing with adversity is enjoying our lives and getting the most out of the good times.
Adversity is inevitable so there is nothing to be gained by trying to avoid it or unduly worrying about the next occurrence. When your life story is written, adversity will be part of the plot. Only you get to decide how the rest of that story will be written!
This article is part of Scott Arney's educational series, entitled The Serial Decision Maker