What We Can Learn From Adversity


Adversity comes in many forms. It could be the loss of a big game, failing to get a promotion, a bombed presentation or losing a business deal to a competitor. More seriously, adversity may come in the form of  being fired, having significant financial difficulty, a relationship ending or serious illness. Regardless of the variety, adversity can become a teacher to us if we view it in the proper perspective.

Expect Adversity

I have never worked with a performer at the highest level of their profession who has not experienced significant setbacks in their career. You cannot expect to be at the highest level of any performance related profession without experiencing adversity. When you go against the best with a lot on the line you simply cannot win every time. The only way to shield yourself from experiencing adversity in a performance oriented profession is to not play the game at the highest level. If you stay at levels below your ultimate potential or capability you may be able to avoid adversity. But who wants to live like that?

Welcome the Challenge

If you expect adversity it will not be a surprise when it arrives. You accept the fact you have chosen to compete at the highest level your ability will allow. With this mindset adversity becomes a challenge to be conquered rather than an excuse for a pity party. One of the most famous books in the history of psychology, spirituality and self-help, M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, begins with the elegant, poignant and powerful sentence: “Life is difficult.” Peck believed by viewing adversity as an opportunity for personal growth, you can actually evolve to a stage where you welcome adversity. This occurs because you know it will result in some form of transformative growth. This is difficult to do when you are in the midst of adversity seeking answers and meaning. But that is exactly the point. The best athletes, businesspeople and other performers in the world do what is hard, not easy. If being the best at your craft was easy, more people would do it.

Stay Out of Victim Mode

A natural human reaction in response to adversity is to ask the question “Why me.” I try to do my best. I’m a good person and treat others as I would like to be treated. So why is this bad thing happening to me? This question is a waste of time unless you have done something to bring the adversity upon yourself. In my last post, How Do I Get in The Zone?, I discussed the importance of self-talk for performers. Self-talk is largely unconscious until you receive some training in the concept. Self-talk consists of the things we say to ourselves to explain what happens to us. The victim mode is the result of a form of negative self-talk known as “the fallacy of fairness.” This fallacy is an underlying belief that the world is (or should be) fair. It is an idyllic concept but inconsistent with reality. If we are consciously or unconsciously walking around thinking everything that happens to us will be fair we are sitting ducks for victim mode. On the other hand, if we accept the fact that life isn’t always fair we deal with adversity to the best of our ability and without resentment. We understand the adversity experience will be temporary.

Learn Your Lessons

Every significant adversity experience should teach you something. You should grow from each experience in some unique way. Often, your lessons will only become clear after the adversity experience is in your rear view mirror–that’s okay. We all know individuals who keep making the same mistakes in their personal and/or professional lives. That occurs because they fail to learn from adversity and make the necessary changes to evolve and keep from repeating mistakes. Following each major adversity experience, I conduct a “lessons learned” session with my clients. This session is not about beating people up for the mistakes they’ve made. Rather, it’s about understanding why something happened and what needs to be done differently in the future to avoid repetitive mistakes. We look at the factors the performer can and cannot control. If the adversity experience arises largely from factors beyond their control, we accept the experience as the price of doing business at the highest level and move on. However, most often there is some element under the control of the individual they can learn from, grow from and do differently in the future. I also suggest performers keep a journal of all these lessons learned throughout their careers.

If you view adversity correctly, you see it is an experience that is necessary to take you to the next level of personal or professional performance. Adversity can be a gut wrenching mashing of teeth or an experience that makes you better. It’s up to you!

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