Adversity: Enemy or Ally?

Adversity: Enemy or Ally?

What do you do when things go wrong? Get upset or learn all you can?

The current situation has plenty to get upset about—foreclosure rates and related bank screw-ups, the interminable length of unemployment when it hits, the nasty political season that is now finally ending. It’s easy to feel like a victim, bombarded by unfairness and beaten down by bad news on all fronts.

But does that help you? Does that help anybody?

Victim status has been unduly venerated for decades but that doesn’t mean you want to end up in that pit. Yeah, friends and relatives—maybe even total strangers—will feel sorry for you. But what does that get you?

A fleeting moment of attention and a lifelong sense of helplessness. Seeing yourself as a victim means you give up on the notion that you can change what you need to. (And right now, there’s a lot that’s ripe for new directions!)

If you mutter things like “Why me?” or “Not this” or “Not this again!”, you’re on the brink of victimhood. It really doesn’t help to go there. Adversity has been around as long as humans have. It’s Mother Nature’s way of keeping us sharp and helping us grow.

So instead of feeling sorry for yourself, ask the only question that’s really going to help: What can I learn from this?

Sometimes the lesson is obvious and easy. Learning that you should not buy more than you can afford is an example of that.

But sometimes the lesson is far more convoluted. This is especially true with job search right now. There are many talented, experienced people who can’t even elicit eye contact with hiring decision makers. They are capable, skilled, and have great track records full of amazing achievements, but…

But what? That’s the lesson. Maybe it’s time to move in a new direction. In that case, the lesson is to let go of that former identity and become a new learner again (a very difficult lesson for most of us). Maybe it’s the need for an entirely different network. Maybe it’s the push you need to go into business for yourself. Maybe it’s a case of figuring out you need to flip to the opposite side of the business you’ve been in.  A friend of mine went from being a geologist to selling mining and construction equipment and was highly successful at it.

Seeing adversity as a negative is like assuming winter is a waste of time for plants. Sitting in the dark helps things germinate. Adversity is a source of that velvet black thinking time if you accept it.

When things go wrong, you’re back in school, whether you realize it or not. Learn all you can:

What’s the situation itself teaching you? For example, a job search now is not like what you did in 1968. Learn all you can about the current process. Get proficient with today’s tools. Become crystal clear about the reality of the moment and what that means relative to what you already know.

What skills are you developing that you never needed before? Well, maybe we have needed them but just haven’t had a reason to learn them….like how to be smooth and calm when things are not going well. That kind of patience is golden, and adversity teaches it well.

What’s this difficulty preparing you for? At a minimum, the things we’re working our way through now are making us stronger for the long haul emotionally. “If I can get through that, I can do anything” is probably going to be our national theme song for the next decade. But when hard times are pummeling you, there are things you’re learning that will serve you on a more specific, pragmatic basis as well. You may come up with a whole new version of community living that revolutionizes lifestyle choices for the second half of life. You might create a specialized lending library. You might discover you’re good at something you’ve never explored before–that you want to do for the rest of your life. Adversity is often the source of a life-enhancing nudge.

How are you better because of this adversity? This is the crux of a life well lived–seeing whatever comes as the perfect gift. Learning more, doing things a better way, getting on with something you’ve yearned to do but haven’t been able to fit into a too full life—all of those and much more grow out of adverse situations.

Life was never intended as a cushy lounge in the hammock on a beach where it never rains. Life is a challenge because as humans we need challenges to learn, grow, and thrive. So when something bad happens, forego “Why me?” and ask “What’s to learn here?” And then get on with learning it.

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