Adversity Builds Character

In times of stress look for the why

Ever have one of those weeks where everything just seems to be falling your way. You sleep great. The kids actually seem to be behaving. Nothing in the house breaks down or stops working. Your colleagues are agreeable and your boss notices the solid work you’ve been doing.

These times don’t happen often, but when they do we feel like we could take on the world. In fact, it is often times like these when our very best work comes out. Most people can perform well when everything is going in their favor.

But how about when the opposite is in effect. How do you perform when the kids are sick and you’re sleeping five hours a night? Can you still deliver when your boss gives credit to another team member who is only riding your coat tails? Is your performance still on target when you are worrying about how to pay for that leaky roof?

It is in times of adversity that we reveal who we really are. I for one often find myself lacking. It doesn’t take a lot to throw me off my game and when it happens I can almost stand outside of myself as an objective observer and see it happen. But that doesn’t change the fact that stress does a number on me. So I know this is something I know I need to work on.

What I try to do is to personify adversity. I look at it like a teacher. This isn’t a new idea. People like Plato, Marcus Aurelius and even Yoda have taught the same. But tried and true methods become cliché because they work. When I see adversity as a teacher I can more easily pull myself out of the situation and look at it as a lesson that I can learn from.

For instance, if a client is really unhappy with a given piece of work even though I have provided exactly what they asked for, I look at it as a lesson in patience. I could get a bit upset and explain how I am delivering on our agree upon project. But instead I step back and realize that as someone who works with people looking for work, I am also working with people at their most vulnerable. Sometimes when people lose control of one aspect of their lives, in this case their job, they try to exert control over something else: our project. When I look at it from this perspective I can see the why, not just the what of the client’s actions.

This is just a small example, but I think it illustrates the point well. When we look at adversity as a teacher trying to help us build character it causes us to look for the why when trouble happens. Why is this happening to me now and in this particular way? What can I learn from it? If nothing else it helps you break the cycle of stress and look at the problem from a different perspective. And for me at least, any strategy that lessens stress is a good one.