David Shechtman puts context and framework around how handling Adversity constructively can powerfully contribute to a person’s ability to improve.
The Center for Creative Leadership published a report a number of years ago defining Hardships as being one of three key aspects related to how leaders grow (Significant Relationships and Assignments being the other two). I prefer to use the term Adversity rather than Hardships.
A challenge many of us face when staring down an Adversity is that we don’t have what we need to get through it. This may sound like alarming news, but it isn’t. In fact, most of life is this way. While we may feel embarrassed or foolish for not having a skill that we need at work, we’ve all spent most of our life coping with this same struggle. Think of it this way: we all were born into this world with absolutely no skills (other than the ability to cry); we all started school not knowing what to do or how to learn; we all played sports or joined clubs not knowing how to perform or fit in. In fact, I think it’s outrageous that as adults many of us feel ashamed at not knowing what to do in a given situation. It’s actually our natural state.
The key, then, is what we do when facing a situation in which we don’t know what to do or how to show up. What do we do when facing this sort of ambiguity? Do we embrace the uncertainty and attempt to learn? Or do we look the other way and avoid responsibility?
Two particular authors come to mind on this topic. The first is Robert Quinn. In addition to writing the powerful book Deep Change, Quinn also wrote a couple of other works. Building The Bridge As You Walk On It is one of my favorites. It’s in this book that he describes the concept of Adaptive Confidence, which is the notion that successful people learn and evolve in real time. They don’t always rely on past experiences, academic learning, or routinized training. Rather, they find themselves in a spot they’ve never been and use their basic skills and intuition to figure out what to do next. The key is that they have faith. They don’t believe in some external concept; they believe in themselves.
The second author on the topic is Carol Dweck. Dweck is a behavioral scientist who studies habits of successful individuals. Her book Mindset hints at the conclusions of her work. She has discovered that two basic mindsets pervade the general public: fixed and growth. A person with the fixed mindset believes that he already contains all of the talents, skills, and abilities for his lifetime. Nothing more will come. It’s as good as it gets. Therefore, the fixed mindset person must avoid looking bad or making a mistake because there’s nowhere to go but down. Conversely, a person with the growth mindset believes that she is never done adding new talents, skills, and abilities. If this person doesn’t know what to do, she’ll simply go out and learn about it. There’s no limit. Therefore, failure and disappointments are painful, but they don’t signal an end. They signal an opportunity to learn and get better.
These authors help remind us that Adversities need not be an end to our growth or success, but rather they can be a beginning. Nobody likes to feel uncertain or confused. Yet these are the moments when we learn the most. Facing our limits is good for us – it’s in these moments that we learn vast amounts about our work, our world, and ourselves.
Many of us talk in a professional context about going somewhere we’ve never been or achieving results that we’ve never before attained. This is great. I applaud big thinking. Just remember that this journey—as Joseph Campbell called it—this Hero’s Journey is fraught with challenges and obstacles. This “road of trials” forges our talents and abilities. These experiences prepare us for the rewards that come along the way.
The road of trials helps us discover what we need. We’re not meant to know it all.
Take a few moments right now and answer the following questions:
- What have the big struggles in my life taught me?
- What are five talents I now have that came as a result of overcoming Adversity?
- What’s a struggle that I’m involved in right now that has the chance to teach me something important?