Adversity will blindside you; jump you from behind; take you by surprise, but it isn’t a bully. It isn’t something you can punch once to make it back down… to make it go away. Instead, it’s a tough and wily opponent that demands you wrestle it to the ground and grapple with it until it gives up and hands you its golden gift of change. And, you may be surprised by our advice for how to ‘wrestle it to the ground’.
Be forewarned. It will do its utmost to defeat any notions of fair play. For at the onset, adversity is never fair—it always starts off with a shock attack and it fights dirty.
Unfairness in life is not a concept we take well to. As children, we’re taught to share and share alike; to give everyone a turn. We are told everyone should be treated the same, and that we all have equal value. What we are not taught is that this is an idealized way of thinking about the world. It doesn’t reflect reality. It doesn’t reflect the human condition. It doesn’t mean we can’t and shouldn’t strive for fairness; it just means we can’t expect it.
So, when it comes to adversity, forget about fairness. Forget about saying: “Why me?” Everyone says that. Forget about saying: “What did I ever do to deserve this?” Everyone says that. You’re never going to know ‘why me’ or what, if anything, you did to deserve what’s happened, so get off that track asap.
Instead, think tough. That may sound a little unforgiving and lacking in empathy, but a tough approach is absolutely necessary. Because if you don’t meet adversity determined to get through it, it will flood you with anger, sadness, and despair; it will sap your strength, alter your mood, colour your outlook on life for the worse, and hold you in its grip… sometimes, for years. It will make you feel sorry for yourself, and it will do everything it can to have you indulge that self-pity until it consumes everything that is bright and beautiful and strong in you.
Most importantly, if you don’t meet it determined to overcome it, the wonderful changes it can bring to your life will never be actualized—you will never develop the incredible power that comes in having come all the way through its darkness to its bright golden side.
So, how to turn this dark foe into a bright and luminous friend? Ironically (or perhaps not so ironically), to turn it into a friend you have to – at some point – treat it like one.
“What?” you ask, incredulously.
Yes, to truly wrestle this dark foe to the ground and turn it into a friend, you actually need to treat it like one.
Why? Because the more you fight against it, the more energy/power you give to it, and the more it persists. But when you embrace it (or at least accept its presence), you take the wind out of its sails and you can begin to consider what there is for you to learn and grow from.
BUT let us be clear: we are not saying you must immediately embrace this unwelcome assailant when he jumps you from behind. It would be unrealistic for us to expect that kind of benevolent, zen-like response to an attack. And in fact, it might be unwise. Our initial inclination to fight derives from our self-preservation instinct; an important trait indeed. This fighting instinct is part of what keeps us safe in life, so allow the fight to take place.
Let the shock of what happened reverberate. Allow yourself to experience everything you feel: be angry, disgusted, sad, mournful, and so on – for a while. You need to allow yourself to feel these things so that you can move through them. Mourn the loss of what was, and feel the emotion at what is. But be careful, because as we said earlier, if you allow these emotions to stay with you too long, you may trap yourself, and your suffering will be prolonged – potentially for much longer than you thought possible.
Be cautious, also, with sympathy for yourself. Some sympathy is useful, for it can prompt us to say: “This really stinks, but don’t worry; I’ll get through this; everyone faces set-backs; things will get better.” Too much sympathy feeds ‘woe-is-me’ and wallowing, which can be yet another dangerous and long-lasting trap.
Eventually, when your head begins to clear, you can start to move on. Do some motivational self-talk. Use your name, and ‘you’ rather than ‘I’. E.g.: “Peter, good for you for not running from this… for facing it head-on. You’ll find your way through it. Other people have done it; you can do it, too.” Self-talk is incredibly powerful; it’s not – as our inner skeptics would have us believe – simply some new-age positive thinking: Olympians and pro-athletes use it as a tool for internal remodeling. Its effectiveness has been shown again and again.
Read inspiring books by authors who have gone through what you’re going through. Watch uplifting movies that depict people overcoming the odds. Pick up the phone and call a friend or a health professional, or find solace in nature, or by attending your place of worship. Look for the lessons in this experience. Really. Because there will be some important ones.
And beware of making comparisons. We all look pretty good on the surface, don’t we? Couple that with our tendency to compare how badly we are doing to how well others are doing. As such, it will be helpful for the time being, to stay away from perky, perfect-lives, as showcased on most social media sites.
Finally, ask yourself this: Left to my own devices, would I have gathered the courage and made the effort to make the changes I now need to make/have made? When we’re really honest with ourselves, most of us would answer, “No, I wouldn’t have”. There you have it: the upside, staring you in the face.
Adversity demands our best… and then some. But if we have the courage – and patience – to go through it, it can and will profoundly change and enhance our lives.