I made a radical shift in thinking when I began to really understand how adversity has been a powerful advantage in my life. It is seductive to look at unfortunate events, personal and professional failures, and life challenges as proverbial scarlet letters. They threaten our confidence, drop shame bombs in our psyches, draw ridicule from others, and pose serious practical challenges to our life circumstances. I cannot fault an innocent man languishing on death row, a teenager who grew up in an abusive home, or one of the millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet for thinking "Woe is me." Yet I urge us all to recondition our minds to embrace adversity in whatever form it appears in our lives. Without struggle, there is no progress. Without wounds, there is no healing. Without challenges, there can be no success. Adversity is the ultimate advantage.
Adversity is a literal and figurative badge of courage and should be respected as such.
The "Adversity Advantage" stares me in the face every time I look in the mirror. I was always an uncommonly successful student, able to learn with ease and maintain excellent grades with limited effort. Given my track record of success, it was a complete WTF moment for me when, in my senior year at Princeton, I learned that I would not be graduating because I had failed a required lab science course. At the time, I thought the world was coming to an end. My parents nearly had me committed. My friends were preparing to begin prestigious careers and elite graduate studies, but I was completely uncertain about my future, just stuck. My confidence and identity as a brilliant person were under direct fire. I attempted to take replacement courses at two other schools, and failed each. I ended up homeless, broke, and suicidal. A boyfriend shattered a glass door in my face attempting to punch me, and it was fitting. My life and belief in myself was shattering all around me.
It was in that downtrodden state that my will to win was born. The adversity finally nudged me to make a decision to "get my sh*t together," and I made it happen. I came home to Detroit, enrolled in a local college I would have previously thought was beneath me, and single-mindedly focused on the goal at hand- completing a Psychology 101 lab course. In retrospect, that semester was one of my most enriching times in life and more educationally enhancing than all four years at Princeton. Everything I did- from the walking around Detroit, taking the public bus and assisting people from all walks of life while working in a bookstore- lit my brain and spirit on fire. The course ended up being one of the few in life that I was actually eager to attend, and I learned practical tips in it which made law school and negotiating complex transactions as a corporate lawyer a relative breeze. I emerged from the entire experience more self-assured, charismatic, worldly, empathetic, and grateful than I could have ever imagined to be before my failure. I graduated, not only from Princeton, but also from a more surface level of living. Adversity taught me to ascend.
The adversity I endured was a fantastic gift. I would never have known that I have the courage to live (and thrive) in the midst of adversity if I had not experienced it. The experience of failing was freeing too. It is hard to take risks if you do not know with certainty that you can fail successfully. As an attorney who closed over $100 billion in transactions, my adversity paid dividends each day. No matter how tense or complex deals became, I never lost my cool, and staked my reputation on innovative new approaches. I was always hopeful we would get the deal done and more savvy and resourceful than opposing counsel who had never been faced with "do or die" situations. I do not entertain any pretenses about being perfect, but I do know I have a fighter spirit and a mind that is powerful when it is focused on achieving noble goals. Adversity is not my enemy; it is a wise instructor thoughtfully coaching me to my awesome, successful and abundant destiny.
My tips on dealing with adversity:
1) Remember that this too shall pass.
First, always put any adversity that you encounter in proper context. It is most likely only a temporary circumstance, not a permanent life sentence. Believing that a negative condition or series of events will end eventually helps your mind to attract the conclusion of the negative events. Even if the event is permanent, as time passes, you will be better equipped to deal with it. So if you lose your eyesight, in due time you can learn to adapt to the condition and do everything that a person with sight can do.
2) Focus on your past achievements.
Do not let adversity wipe out your slate of prior accomplishments. Recall goals you have accomplished in the past and treat them as evidence that you will do amazing things in the future.
3) Find examples of inspirational figures who have also overcome adversity.
This part is easy because in the story of virtually every great figure you will find an adversity tale which was an integral part of their success. I take inspiration from figures as diverse as my mom, Tupac, Nina Simone, Zora Neale Hurston, Elon Musk, Malcolm X, Tom Brady, Joan of Arc, Bo Jackson, and Sojourner Truth. Each of them is great because of the adversity which shaped their life.
4) Seek support from others.
Find people who will encourage you to persevere. If there is no one in your life who fits the bill, then find encouraging books, videos, songs, blogs to consume. In my case, I joined a church to connect with a community of positive minded people and delved into the affirming works of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Cornel West, and the music of J. Dilla.
5) Eliminate losers from your life.
Nothing makes it more difficult to deal with adversity than hanging around a crew of Debbie Downers. Negative friends and associates will launch you into a spiral of despair and nihilism. They literally do not want you to ascend because then you will leave them. Banish them from your life!
6) Find positive affirmations to repeat to yourself.
The power of positive thinking is mind bending. If you tell yourself that you are an awesome person with a divine mission in life and deserving of abundance, prosperity, health, and joy, watch it manifest. Affirmations invite your mind to internalize positive beliefs about your characteristics and destiny. They bring positive events into existence. You can find them all over the web, and I am particularly fond of video affirmations on YouTube.
7) Get inspired.
I immersed myself in places and events where I would see beautiful, thought-provoking, or imagination-engendering things. Going to libraries, museums, parks, and concerts helps you to feel like a thriving person, not a loser. Inspiration leads to a belief that anything is possible which then helps you to have faith that your adversity will be a feather in your cap, not a black eye.
8) Create an attack plan.
Spend your time charting how you will dance with adversity. Even seemingly insurmountable challenges can be broken down with smaller steps. Each moment spent creating a plan to adapt to adversity is doubly effective because you are also not giving in to negative feelings of powerlessness.
Your mind can take you away from any circumstance. Do you think that Harriet Tubman would have taken the first step out of slavery and onto the Underground Railroad if she didn't daydream? As a child, you believe you can do anything and you spend hours lost in your own fantastic thoughts. Get that back by daydreaming and visualizing your future success.
10) Believe in yourself and the power of your adversity to positively impact your life.
Above all, believe in yourself. Know that all adversity you face is a sign that you are in the process of becoming a more perfect, prepared, and mentally prosperous version of yourself. You can do it!
In the comments, please share an adversity story. We all have them.
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