Overcoming adversity is one of the biggest hurdles we face.
As Havelock Ellis wrote, "Pain and death are part of life. To reject them is to reject life itself."
Problems, large and small, present themselves to us throughout our whole existence.
Regardless of how sharp, clever, or happy-go-lucky we are, we will encounter struggle, challenges, difficulties and at times, heart wrenching moments. Is this meant to be a negative, cynical assessment of what we have to look forward to?
Not at all!
In fact, thank goodness for adversity! Learning to deal with and overcoming adversity is what builds character and resilience. Every challenge and every difficulty we successfully confront in life serves to strengthen our will, confidence and ability to conquer future obstacles. Herodotus, the Greek philosopher, said, "Adversity has the effect of drawing out strength and qualities of a man that would have lain dormant in its absence."
Of course, since we are human, it is very easy to get caught up in the self pity, unfairness of life, or 'why me?' traps. When we do, we fail to recognize the opportunities for wisdom and growth that accompany adversity. However, as soon we allow ourselves to think more clearly, we are able to let go of self-defeating and unproductive thoughts and get down to the business of dealing with what's before us.
1. Be aware of, and accept that adversity is
inevitable in life. As has already been pointed out,
adversity is part of life. To avoid or resist it will only make it
persist. Everywhere you look in the world there is unmistakable
struggle. There are floods, tsunamis, wars, and calamities of all
types. Even within your own circle of family and friends there is
death, loss and tragedy. Although pain is inevitable, suffering is
optional. So what do you do?
2. Build your internal resources. Before adversity hits, work on cultivating emotional strength, courage and discipline. When you make yourself aware that certain difficulties are inevitable, you can prepare yourself mentally for confronting adversity head-on. It would be no different than a warrior going to battle. He (or she) prepares himself physically and mentally for any possibility. He knows it could be ugly, daunting, and grueling, but he is equipped.
More often than
not, when you're prepared for the worst, the worst never happens, or
it's much less severe than anticipated. Another invaluable inner
resource is faith. Faith that everything will work out; faith that
there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and faith that "this
too shall pass." Everything in life has its place and purpose.
3. Build your external resources. Build a support system of family and friends. When the going gets tough, we all need encouragement and support. We need someone to talk to; someone to help ease the burden. You would be surprised to discover how often a friend has had a similar experience and can help guide you through the difficult time. Even just knowing a friend is there when you need them can be most comforting.
4. That which does not kill you doesn't always make stronger. Sorry Nietzsche! While I agree with Nietzsche, in principle that - "that what does not kill you will make you stronger", I do not necessarily agree with him in practice. For instance, if you do not have enough built-up resilience or experience in dealing with difficulty, adversity can crush you. On the other hand, if do you have sufficient resilience, then indeed it will make you stronger. How so, you ask?
Resilience like any muscle is built up gradually and
exponentially with repeated exposure to obstacles. If you lack practice
in confronting obstacles (as when you choose to avoid them), one
traumatic event can take you down.
To underscore this point, developmental research has shown that traumatized children are more, rather than less, likely to be traumatized again. Likewise, those who grow up in tough neighborhoods become weaker, not stronger, and are more likely to struggle in life.
5. Take inspiration and learn from others who have dealt successfully with adversity. There are many inspiring stories of people who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds. They triumphed over their adversities to live successful, productive lives instead of surrendering to it.
Here are some examples:
Helen Keller: Lost her sight and hearing due to a mysterious fever when she was only 18 months old. She overcame her deafness and blindness to become a strong, educated woman who spoke about, and promoted, women's rights.
Winston Churchill: Overcame a stuttering problem and poor performance in school to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and one of the most influential political leaders of the twentieth century. He was also known for his powerful and rousing speeches.
Wilma Rudolph: The Olympian born prematurely, the 20th of 22 children. She overcame double pneumonia, scarlet fever and polio to become winner of three Gold medals in track at the 1960 Rome Olympic Games.
*** Lance has since
admitted to taking steroids during his cycling career, however, he did
still battle cancer and overcame immense odds. It's unfortunate that
his career was not as exemplary as his will to overcome adversity.
J.K. Rowling: Born to a poor family; left a bad marriage with a young baby to live on government assistance; wrote her first Harry Potter book and was turned down by most publishers until Bloomsbury Publishing picked it up. Need I say more?
Determination, resilience, and persistence enabled all of these
great people to push past their adversities and prevail. If they could
do it, surely the rest of us can summon the strength and courage to do
overcome our adversities!