Never Underestimate the Power of Adversity: How Hardship Builds Resilience

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“I walked 10 miles to work…in the snow…barefoot.” I’m sure you’ve heard this adage before from your parents, or even jokingly said it to your children. I recently read an expanded version of this story.

My grandfather walked 10 miles to work every day; my father walked five.

I’m driving a Cadillac; my son is in a Mercedes.

My grandson will be in a Ferrari, but my great-grandson will be walking again because:

Tough times create strong men

Strong men create easy times

Easy times create weak men

Weak men create tough times

This quote is from the 2016 science fiction title “Those Who Remain: A Postapocalyptic Novel” by G. Michael Hopf. It has been often re-quoted and sometimes misattributed on social media.

It speaks to the circularity of life (do you hear Lion King in your head when you read that?) My point is not to debate whether life is circular or linear, but simply that struggle and hardship can create opportunities for growth. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Related Article: Ten ways successful people push through adversity

When we face difficulties, we can use those challenges to learn and grow. If you have to walk through the snow, barefoot, you can choose to react with anger and sadness at your plight or you can try to change it. The struggle will be an incentive to figure out a better way. You may wonder why this happened and what you need to do to get snow boots or a vehicle. This unleashes opportunities for creativity and motivation.

Are you a snow plow parent?

As parents, we may intellectually understand this concept, but sometimes we are tempted to act as “snow plows” for our children. This is where we try to remove all obstacles from our children’s paths so they don’t suffer any pain or discomfort. Wanting to remove painful obstacles is a natural response by parents yet, in doing so, we are depriving them of learning and growing from their struggles.

Allow an optimal amount of stress

This is not to say, we can’t pass on our wisdom to our children. My colleague, David Meltzer, urges us to learn from our mistakes so we don’t continue paying a “dummy tax”. Our children can learn from our mistakes too, but we shouldn’t try to shield them from making their own mistakes. This is where resilience begins and then gains momentum. However, there is an optimal amount of stress or struggle that produces productive results. Too much stress can create trauma, which prevents us from learning and moving forward. This is the ultimate challenge: to balance an optimal amount of stress for the greatest growth opportunity.

Related Article: The Six Principles for Overcoming Entrepreneurial Adversity

In her book Grit; The Power of Passion and Perseverance, author and psychologist, Angela Duckworth, explains, “the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls “grit.” Grit is defined as courage, resolve, or strength of character. These are all qualities that we admire and want our children to have. We don’t become gritty or resilient when our paths are smoothly paved. It is the pebbles or rocks or even mountains that we climb that give us strength of character.

Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it

Once we understand that a certain amount of stress and struggle are needed for growth, we can move onto figuring out how to turn that stress into something positive. Charles R. Swindoll says, “Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”

Successful people respond to adversity differently. For example, everyone may encounter job loss at some point in their life. Some people become discouraged and depressed. This is one side of the traditional fight or flight reaction to trauma. Others become energized and look at it as a “one door closes, another one opens.” That small shift in attitude can create big results.

Successful people have developed tool kits from previous bumps in the road. They learn from their mistakes and move on. When they hit a new bump, they recognize it and react accordingly. They believe they have control over their life and make adjustments going forward.

Five things to teach your grandchildren

What are five things you can do now so that your great-grandchildren are not walking the same ten miles barefoot in the snow as you did?

  • Let them fail. This is hard to watch sometimes, but it is the most important part of learning resilience.
  • Help them learn coping skills to handle that failure; things like meditation, working out and breathing exercises.
  • Show them the value of having a supportive family and community around them. Let them know that they are loved regardless of success or adversity.
  • Teach them to understand boundaries so they know what they can and cannot control.
  • Encourage them to work on building resilience. Building resilience is a life-long exercise. If you want to get big muscles, you need to lift weights regularly. Similarly, if you want to build resilience, you need to experience adversity, learn from your struggles and move forward.

Related: Passion, Grit, Resilience: The Formula for Success

Let’s face it, we all face adversity. It’s unavoidable. No one chooses to walk barefoot in the snow! It’s understanding and applying the tools to move from adversity to resilience that is invaluable. So what steps can you take now to build your own resilience, and how can you pass those skills on to those under your influence?

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