What We Can Learn From Adversity


Adversity originates from many sources. It could follow the loss of a big game, failure to get a promotion, a bombed presentation, or losing a business deal to a competitor. More seriously, adversity may result from being fired, significant financial difficulty, the end of a relationship, or serious illness. Regardless of the source, we can learn valuable lessons from adversity 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 compete against the best with a lot at stake, you simply cannot win every time. The only way to shield yourself from experiencing adversity in a performance-oriented profession is to avoid playing the game at the highest level. If you hover 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, you won’t be surprised when you encounter it. Start by accepting the fact that you choose to compete at the highest level your ability will allow. With this mindset, adversity becomes a challenge to be conquered rather than a reason to wallow. 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 pithy 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 stage occurs because you know it will result in some form of transformative growth. It’s difficult to appreciate adversity while you’re experiencing it. 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 response to adversity is to ask, “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 calamity happening to me? These questions are a waste of time unless you have done something to bring the adversity upon yourself. In another post, How Do I Get in The Zone?, I discussed the importance of self-talk for performers. You engage in self-talk daily but are likely unaware of it until you receive some training in the concept. Self-talk consists of the inner conversations we have with ourselves to explain what happens to us. The victim mode results from 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 subconsciously walking around thinking everything that happens to us will be fair, we are setting ourselves up 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, and 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 avoid repeating mistakes. Following each major adversity experience, I conduct a “lessons learned” session with my clients. This session is not about punishing them for the mistakes they’ve made. Rather, it’s about understanding why something happened and what they could do 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, usually we identify some causal element under the control of the individual that will help them learn, grow, and avoid falling into the same trap in the future. I also suggest performers keep a journal of all these lessons learned throughout their careers.

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

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