Trials to Triumphs: The Upside of Adversity

Adversity benefits

The worst state of being is that of comfort. Comfort is resting. Comfort is fattening. Comfort is easy. Comfort is the goal you want to strive for, but never actually reach.

Imagine living in a state of decay. Whatever that looks like to you; nuclear winter in a post-apocalyptic setting, a world population decimated by an incurable virus, or a world where your cat no longer curls up with you on the couch and Friends is no longer on streaming services while your pantry is empty of buttered popcorn… Truly a modern wasteland.

Each and any of these scenarios have surface-level conceptual differences, but one thing that does not change is that you must wade through the proverbial sludge to have any hope for a greater existence.

Many of us have forgotten the value of struggling for a purpose. Humans, technology, and the world have evolved to a point in which we think having to roll the recycling bin out twice a month is difficult work. We’ve become so dependent on things that make our life easier that we have lost the value of adversity, and I’m here to tell you why that should scare you more than any SHTF scenario.

The struggle of life is one of our greatest blessings. It makes us patient, sensitive, and Godlike. It teaches us that although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. – Helen Keller

If I have to convince you that Helen Keller knows what adversity is, you can head back to your easy chair, eyes glazed over and drooling, while CNN or Fox News blares on in the background.

Not all adversity is equal. Running out of Goldfish crackers versus losing a parent are not the same, and I’m not here to argue that. For the sake of defining adversity, there are several types I want to focus on here, which are much more than your run-of-the-mill misplacement of the TV remote between the seat cushions.

Types of adversity

Financial crisis – You’ve missed your mortgage, you can’t afford date night with the office secretary, and you’ve got to decide who gets the SpaghettiOs tonight, you or your 5-year-old.

Health Crisis – You let yourself go after college and without knowing it, years of acclimating to a soul-sucking corporate life with Starbucks and microwavable lunches has turned those catcalls you used to hear of, “Hey you’re hot” into “Jesus Christ, look who just got let out of the feedlot!”

Workplace issues – Tara’s spreading gossip about how you slept with the administrative assistant and during your breaks, you’re getting down and dirty in the boiler room. Your boss won’t invite you into the meeting room anymore because now your purported case of crabs makes your pod members “uncomfortable” and unwilling to work with you.

Emptiness and boredom – You’ve watched all the Game of Thrones there is and now your life is empty and meaningless without hearing quips from Tywin Lannister, and you know the fate of Jon Snow, who you hilariously believe is what you’d be like had you lived in the Medieval period.

Friendship issues – After high school, Sam went off to college while you stayed in your hometown. She was learning about microbiology and your idea of a good time was sending nonstop Snapchats of your daily Tequila addiction. Over time, you drifted apart and now you can’t convince her that the reason you can’t hold a steady job is that the border’s open. You can’t enjoy the things you both used to when times were simpler.

Loss and grief – There’s nothing humorous about this. We lose someone, and that hurts. Not just the physical loss of their presence but the emotional toll it takes on you adjusting to a life without them. It also doesn’t have to be a person, let alone a family member. It can be a loved pet, plant, or even that Furby you got in second grade that doubled as a cheap therapist.

Relationship struggles – You’re on the verge of divorce after rousting your mother-in-law over Thanksgiving dinner about how advising your daughter to “Pound the pavement” and “Take whatever job you can get” is not the appropriate response to an employer hiring for escorts in Vegas. Your spouse stands firmly that you shouldn’t ruffle feathers and you’re ready to trade him in for an Arby’s beef and cheddar sandwich.

Decision-making dilemmas – Should you take the $40K job and live on the South Side of Chicago or settle on $37K in East St. Louis? Either way, your experience living through either of those will triumph even the harshest environments when SHTF.

I Google searched “adversity” and yeah, this idiot shows us how it’s done.

Loneliness and isolation – You used to thrive on the online community of 4chan before the Feds got involved, shut the site down, and now your best friend of 4 months (who covered as your soul mate but was a catfishing Russian agent named Yuri from Murmansk) has vanished without a trace.

None of these types of adversity are trivial, and as you read through those types you probably had an idea of how you might have an example of each in context of your own life.

Now consider each scenario that may have happened over the course of your life, and instead of focusing on how difficult they may have been or are to experience, flip the perspective and consider what benefit there may have been in working through that adversity.

For example, one of the most difficult periods of my life was to realize a lifelong friendship had run its course, and the two of us had no longer the same path or interests. We slowly drifted apart and barely spoke at all. At some point we had stopped conversing at all and I blamed myself.

Einstein once said that, “The definition of insanity is doing the same experiment and expecting different results.” What I had to come to grips with is that both of us had changed and evolved as individuals. We were no longer kids nor did the same things interest us as they once did.

What it took both of us to realize is that we were essentially new people and we had to make an effort to learn about the other. This adversity is certainly not as serious as some, but it did teach me about having empathy for my friend’s journey in addition to learning that adult relationships are not static and cannot be managed as such.

Benefits of adversity

It’s no secret that it’s much easier to examine scenarios of adversity in retrospect. You can take a step back, examine the situation from afar, and break down how you as a character developed during that time.

What’s not so easy is going through adversity and evaluating that struggle concurrently. The value of doing so is that it’ll improve your ability to, wait for it, struggle through the situation by understanding the context in which it is happening. Think of yourself as a character in a book, movie, show, play, or video game. If you know how each situation is testing you and putting you through the gauntlet, you’ll not only be able to approach that problem more effectively by understanding your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to it, but also refining the skills needed to overcome it along the way.

Learning – You live in an urban hellscape (I didn’t say Dallas, did you?) and your source of food has vanished. You embrace crop production without an inkling of knowledge, and your first corn plant begins to sprout from the soil. You realize that the struggle to understand complex concepts and solve problems ultimately leads to mastery and knowledge retention, right as the last cow correctly identifies the corn plant as a type of grass and sends it down the animal’s gullet.

Resilience – Take the scenario of losing a loved one, which we all must struggle with at some point in life. The first time it happens, there’s nothing worse and you’ll never be the same. The emotional pain and grief that you feel is unbearable, indescribable. At some point in the future, you’re sitting at the table with cheeks full of Corn Flakes (the taste in which is a quality instrument of masochism, by the way) and realize that it’s been two days since you felt that ache in your chest. What you’re realizing is that you’re building mental and emotional toughness by experiencing those feelings. And slowly, over time, you harden and rationalize the process.

The first time running a mile unabashedly sucks. The second, third, and fourth times, you bend your mind and convince it that running isn’t for the insane.

Appreciation – Reaching middle management wasn’t easy for you. It took years of backstabbing more intelligent employees, competence projection, flattering your skip-levels, and skewing analytics data during the all-hands meetings to get you where you are today.

Achieving that wasn’t without inaction and you sitting on your J.Crew khakis while others got promoted ahead of you. No no – that was some real sleight of hand on your part. Now celebrate the masterpiece that was, while also acknowledging what you just did is merely a crumb of the same journey our billionaires got to their ivory towers today.

Problem-solving skills – Not only did you learn that your neighbor leaves his garage door open while he takes his wife with dementia out on an afternoon walk, but he also leaves a can full of premium gasoline in there. It would almost be irresponsible of you not to use it, after all, you didn’t vote for the President who is most certainly responsible for these high gas prices.

You think critically and realize that you can use his gas in your lawnmower. Now look at you overcome all these obstacles with a little creative thinking and shameless theft.

Empathy – Adversity fosters empathy. When we face difficulties, we can relate to others who are going through similar experiences.

Now imagine you’re driving down the interstate and see the car you just spotted at the supermarket pulled off on the shoulder, because someone (you don’t know who) took the valve cap from their front wheel tire because they were missing one as well. You know what missing a valve cap feels like and it’s not something you want to go through, again. You can almost look through their eyes and feel what they feel, while solutions start buzzing around their head in how to fix that, uh, particular problem.

Hardship turns your brain into a Swiss Army knife. Can’t find your keys? Improvise with a paperclip and a shoelace. Lost in a foreign city? Follow the smell of fresh croissants. You’re basically MacGyver with better hair.

Changing your perspective is said by many, and experienced by few. If you can crack that nut it’ll unleash a wealth of mental capabilities and turn you from jugger-not into a juggernaught.

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