- Education and Science
Winning Through Adversity
Those of us who have experienced adversity would know what it means and would pray or work hard to ensure that we or our loved ones don't have to experience it ever again. Those who haven't may also have a vicarious understanding if they have witnessed its effect on a colleague, friend or family member. It's obvious that most of us have some understanding of adversity but surprisingly most of us wish away adversity rather than think about it even though we would be much better off confronting and understanding what it's all about,
What do you think?
What is your understanding / experience of adversity?
What is adversity?
Let's not reach out for a dictionary. What does experience tell us?
For me, adversity means situations where my capacity to exert my will and work in a desired direction failed because of circumstances which exerted a very strong overwhelming pull or push in a different direction.
I have seen others grappling with tough situations where baffling outcomes or changed circumstances, surprised and left them helpless and clueless to cope with or conquer the situation. Could be a sudden reappraisal of capabilities by the boss or a sudden loss of a loved one, a change in business cycle that cripples the business or the breakdown of a relationship.
They come in all shapes and sizes, but rather than one-off misfortunes which, like passing clouds, threaten and leave us ruffled, but largely unaffected, it's the prolonged series of unexpected unwelcome events that tests our stamina and mettle and characterizes adversity.
Why does adversity visit us?
Now we enter complicated territory.
Those who have never been visited by adversity would say that it's because of inadequate knowledge and skills or an attitude problem that lands people in adverse circumstances. 'He didn't learn the basics and was bound to land in trouble.' Or 'she's bone lazy and hasn't worked to hone her sales skills - no wonder she's in trouble.' Or it could be 'she's so arrogant and makes enemies - that's asking for it.' (The sub-text is, 'see I am perfect and hardworking - that's why I am not in trouble.')
Now if we turn around and ask the person going through the adversity, he or she will have a completely different take. 'I don't know. Believe me, I tried my best. That's why I have no clue why I am in this mess. Look at X - he is useless but gets away so easily. I don't know why all this has to happen to me!'
So we can never have a consensus on this. Because if you think we can control outcomes no matter what, then adversity is logically a fallout of our failings. But if you think that there are other forces at work to influence outcomes, then we needn't shoulder all the blame or be judged unfairly because of the results. Quite often our view would change depending on who is going through the adversity - me or the other person. So it's better we leave this slippery ground and leave this issue unresolved because, as you will see, it really does not matter as far as dealing with adversity is concerned.
But this much is common knowledge - that adversity will visit almost everybody at some stage or the other, in one form or the other. My career may be sparkling but I may be suffering with some chronic health problems. My family may be wonderful and I may have great friends but my career will be a roller coaster. My childhood would have been tough but my adult life would be crowned with glory and all that one could aspire for. And so on.
Dealing with adversity
When we talk of dealing with adversity, let us assume that we are already in the thick of it. People around us would start behaving differently. Most would condemn, console, sympathize, admonish, criticize, or preach; it's extremely rare for you to come across a person who will understand your plight and share your agony. What you do in this situation would depend on the kind of person you are. Thus, for example, if you are
- 'when the going gets tough, the tough get going' types, then you would try to fight it out. If you succeed, you would have proven that strong will and determined effort is all it takes to overcome adversity. Lets say you don't - that the adversity is so severe and prolonged that it wears you down - then of course, you would move into one of the other categories below and devise coping strategies
- the religious types would realize that they are paying the price for a casual attitude and neglect that had crept in and start taking their prayers and church more seriously with renewed vigor and devotion. The spiritual strength and the distraction it offers would help cope with the circumstances and weather it until some sunshine days return in their life.
- The succumbing types would give up and stop taking initiative altogether. Some may even shirk responsibility and mess it up further by breaking relationships or taking to drugs or some other escapist ways.
- The philosophical types would suffer it through while burrowing into their books and thoughts, seeking answers to the perennial question - who scripts it all?
Winning through adversity
The above ways of dealing with adversity is not an exhaustive list. There are others and each of them have their own advantages but in my experience one can be a winner if we deal with adversity in a proactive manner by
- Trying to figure out the areas that are affected and putting in efforts in other areas. Thus if the relationship is in trouble, one could concentrate more on the job or revive an old hobby and derive some satisfaction so that life doesn't seem to be a meaningless drift.
- Redefine oneself by looking at the significance apportioned to various roles. Do I need to spend more time with the kids? Am I neglecting my parents?
- Figuring out the things one would like to learn and invest time and energy for it. Usually adversity provides a lot of free time that can be productively utilized for developing oneself instead of sulking and sinking further.
- Using the enforced solitude to look at oneself and contemplate on the Achilles heel or character flaws that let us down. Often such contemplation would make the chinks and flaws manageable or sometimes even provide solutions.
- Keep track of the resources that reveal themselves by observing how we dig deep into unknown strengths within us that lay dormant and unrecognized. This would help us redefine our life ahead.
For onlookers and well wishers, it's easy to quote William Shakespeare and say 'sweet are the uses of adversity' but to somebody who is undergoing the pain and trauma, it would make no sense. Understanding and empathy would. And as for those who are going through the adversity, if they look at it as a different phase and an opportunity to reassess themselves, refurbish and recoup for life's long journey ahead, then it wouldn't seem all that terrible a time.
The opportunity of adversity
Before I sign off, I want to leave you with this TedTalk by American athlete, actress and model Aimee Mullins. The whole talk is about 22 minutes but if you find the time to patiently go through it, you will definitely not regret, as you will discover it to be a talk that can add a lot of clarity about the way we look at adversity. It is also packed with awesome motivational power. I enjoyed watching it.