3 Thoughts on Adversity

Thoughts on Adversity | via the Rising Tide Society

“Everyone’s got a plan until they’re punched in the mouth.”

– Mike Tyson

Ain’t that the truth? Regardless of how you feel about ol’ Mike Tyson, he’s got a point. Whether you’re an athlete or a business owner you can plan as much as you want, but be ready for that plan to evolve as you inevitably meet adversity. Isn’t Tyson, in his own way, saying the same thing Robert Burns said describing that poor mouse’s situation whose home was destroyed shortly before winter:

But little mouse, you are not alone,

In proving foresight may be vain:

The best laid schemes of mice and men

Go often askew

And leave us nothing but grief and pain,

For promised joy!

(To a Mouse, 1785)

Okay, so Burns may have been a bit of downer with all that grief and pain talk. But the point remains: Sometimes life punches you in the mouth. And it’s true in business, too.

Adversity can be most devastating to someone who is just getting started. I remember, a couple years ago, being really excited about a business idea, getting underway, and then quickly being barraged by people telling me all the reasons it was a bad idea. And I gave up on it.

Why are people so quick to point out how you can fail?

It’s hard to remember that everyone meets adversity. Everyone. Often in the midst of hardship we look at others who seem better-off, or who appear to have everything together all the time, and think I must not be good enough. But adversity is something everyone faces. And it is often within this adversity that success is born.

Here are three things to remember next time you’re down:

Thoughts on Adversity | via the Rising Tide Society

1. “One fails forward toward success.”

We often forget in our own endeavors that things rarely turn out right the first time. At best, first attempts may be “good enough.” But it rarely becomes the finished product. It takes multiple attempts to move towards perfection.

Think about how anything is improved upon: One analyzes the areas they failed, or could have done better, and then adjusts. As Kettering said, “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement… One fails forward toward success.”

The examples of successful people who overcame adversity are endless: Oprah, Stephen Spielberg, Walt Disney, Vera Wang (check out some more famous examples here). Think about your favorite story. (Got it?). Does the main character face adversity? Of course. And does the main character overcome that adversity? Yes! (If the answer is no, then your story sounds like a real drag–you and Robert Burns coulda been buds.)

A story without adversity is not a story at all. Adversity moves the plot along and causes the character to change–hopefully for the better. But we often focus only on the success, and fail to remember how much of a grind it was to get there, and how transformative that grind can be.

2. Grit is the key.

Intelligence is helpful, but not the key to success. It is lie that only the most intelligent people are successful. I know, I know, you think the next thing I’m going to say is we’re all floating on clouds watching rainbows. But seriously…

Take it from University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Dr. Angela Duckworth whose research demonstrates that “grit” is a better indicator of success than factors such as IQ and family income (TED – Dr. Angela Duckworth).

So what is “grit”: As Dr. Duckworth explains:

Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

One of the best examples of someone with grit? President Lincoln. The guy did more losing than winning at times. He lost Illinois Supreme Court cases and many elections. He failed in business. And tragically, he lost children. This is a guy who had plenty of reasons to be down. Yet he became President of the United States, and left behind one of the strongest legacies in U.S. history.

Grit is having an understanding that adversity is an inevitable reality on the road to success, and resolving yourself to overcome it and not fold under its pressure.

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

– Randy Pausch

Thoughts on Adversity | via the Rising Tide Society

3. Take it from a coach.

Good coaches know something about adversity, and follow an important rule: You’re never as good as you think when you win, and never as bad you think when you lose.

This is something the best coaches understand. Take Bill Belichick as an example (I realize that ¾ of readers just shut the browser and vowed to never read anything I write ever again): Last year the Patriots were blown out by the Kansas City Chiefs early in the season. Commentators began speculating about the demise of Belichick and Tom Brady.

Belichick was asked in the press conference how the team would recover from such a loss. He responded, “You’ve got to have mental toughness [read: grit]…. there’s nothing we can do about this game, we just gotta move ahead.” (emphasis and my brackets my own–see full press conference here)

Now that’s a pretty good perspective on adversity if you ask me. A few months later they had won another Super Bowl.

It’s interesting to read the biographies of top CEOs or famous inventors or great coaches. In almost all cases they face seemingly unsurmountable adversity. Steve Jobs, for instance, was booted from Apple for years, before coming back and turning the company into what it is today. We forget to consider the obstacles they overcame because we only focus on the end of their journey.

So next time you face an obstacle, remember that it doesn’t mean you can’t pass. It simply means that you need to find another way to get where you’re going. And the harder it is, the more transformative it can be.

(Photo Credit: @daveytjonesy)