Keys to Overcoming Adversity

A business partner of mine, Mitch Schlimer, once interviewed Jack Canfield, motivational speaker and co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul.  Canfield had been blessed to work for a time under the famed designer, inventor and systems theorist Buckminster Fuller.  He greatly admired Fuller and viewed him as a profound influence in his life and ultimate success.  In particular, though, there was one quality about Fuller that stood out the most to Canfield, which he called Inverse Paranoia.

Fuller, according to Canfield, had an unbelievable capacity to derive good from bad circumstances.  In fact, Fuller had a little saying he would use when things went wrong.  He would say, “Silly universe, what are you up to now?” He always expected good to come from challenges, and believed the world was endlessly conspiring to do him good.  He was an Inverse Paranoid.

In our research, we studied thousands of happy and successful people.  Almost everyone, amazingly, pointed to moments of great adversity and major setbacks as critical to their success.  Through the adversity, they developed resolve, built relationships and gained critical knowledge that was essential to their growth and accomplishments in life.

It was Nelson Mandela’s time in prison that changed him for the better, eliminating his hate and anger and allowing him to become the man he was.  Billionaire business mogul Richard Branson often points to a time in his early years where he broke the law.  Fortunately, he only had to pay a fine, but this circumstance in many ways shaped the businessman he became.  J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, often references a period of great depression in her life, which included her mother’s death, divorce from her first husband and relative poverty, as the catalyst for her to look inward and formulate the genius of the Harry Potter series.

Simply stated, we can and should grow through adversity, as these are often the greatest periods of development and positive change in our lives.

Here are 3 keys to overcoming adversity that will help you foster your own inverse paranoia:

1 – See Life’s Purpose as Growth

There is a very interesting book called “Radical Forgiveness” by Colin Tipping.  A central premise in it is that our purpose in life is to continually grow and become more.  The challenging part of his argument for many people, though, is that we should actually be thankful for adversity, as this is life’s way of allowing us to fulfill our purpose.

I remember when my grandfather died, and we were all worried about my grandmother.  She told us not to worry because she knew “life was made for the living,” and that grandpa would want her to get the most out of the rest of her time.  It was a very healthy growth-oriented perspective for her and for our family.

There is a proverb that suggests we shouldn’t ask for a lighter burden, but rather to have broader shoulders.  Adversity in life creates clarity in our minds, and it can and should be the genesis of creative activity.  The adversity in our lives undoubtedly provides the greatest opportunities for personal growth.  Maintain this perspective, and you will be one of those people who grows old with strength and grace.

2 – Don’t Judge Circumstances as Good or Bad

For many years, I studied the life of Buddha, as his focus on finding an end to suffering was very interesting to me.  There is a wonderful Buddhist proverb that says, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional,” which summarizes an epiphany I had.

I was able to grasp the perspective that grief is part of life, but that if we embrace struggle and manage our mindsets around it, we do not have to suffer.

Have you ever been to a good funeral?  Sounds a little morbid, but I recently went to one that was very powerful.  It was an absolute celebration of a man’s life.  Sure, we cried and there was sadness, but at the root was a wonderful richness and even joy.  There is something significant about not judging a moment as good or bad and simply experiencing it to its fullest.  It allows us to find our resolution and then move on.

Keys to Overcoming AdversityI recently went to see the new Disney Pixar movie Inside Out.  A key message in it was the role that sadness actually plays in happiness.  It’s what creates fullness and richness in life!  As they say, you have to taste the sour to appreciate the sweet.  If we can refrain from judging a moment as good or bad, and just accept that the moment is, we can then draw the maximum meaning and growth from each experience.

3 – Keep Your Eye on the Prize

Whatever goals we have, there will be great challenges.  It will always be difficult to be a good spouse or parent.  It’s hard to stay fit, be a great community member, and of course to succeed at school or work.  There will be moments in all our journeys where things will get extremely difficult.  It is at those moments that the goal must be bigger than the moment, because we fail only when we stop trying.

In his groundbreaking work, Napoleon Hill studied 500 of the most successful men and women in history – in essence, the business people that built the United States.  The question he asked was how were they able to succeed when most everyone else struggled.  While there were numerous conclusions, perhaps the most powerful was their ability to sustain a burning desire that came from a clarity of purpose.  It was this desire that allowed them to push through where others would fall back.

It is essential that we all find a purpose in our lives.  This purpose must be connected to who we are, our talents, values and deepest desires.  When we do this, we manifest the persistence and resolve to work through challenges and find the light that is always on the other side of darkness.

As the great Steven Covey said, always begin with an end in mind.  When you have clarity of purpose, all the struggles and challenges make sense and become bearable.  Find this clarity, and you’ll find the courage it takes to grow and truly become great.

To overcome adversity, we must understand that perhaps our greatest purpose in life is to evolve and increase the substance of who we are.  The best way to do this is to see every circumstance as an opportunity for growth; even (and perhaps especially) the most difficult situations.  As Oprah once said, “Turn your wounds into wisdom,” and you’re guaranteed to continually progress through life’s challenges in a positive and growing manner.

3 Comments

  1. Dealing with Negative People on August 14, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    […] believe a positive vision is bigger than any single moment of adversity or criticism. If, in that moment of negativity, we hold true to our vision, we can extract […]



  2. Confidence-Building Exercises on September 16, 2015 at 12:19 pm

    […] As we look to build our children’s confidence levels, it’s helpful to be prepared with strategies that are certain to increase their self-confidence, bolster their belief in those around them, and support their ability to make good decisions and recover from adversity. […]



  3. Social and Emotional Learning on September 12, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    […] Central to any great program is a self-discovery process and the building of an appreciation for ourselves and those around us.  It is this understanding of our strengths, interests, values and desires that provides the foundation for persistence – the ability to overcome challenges because our goals are bigger and more important than any single moment of adversity. […]



Leave a Comment