The Secret Potential of Adversity


The universe has a twisted sense of humor.

Sometimes, the forces of nature seem to conspire against us like we are unwitting participants in some kind of cosmic reality show that needs more drama. For whatever reason, life maintains the perverse habit of throwing us curve balls when we least expect it. Throughout our lives, we will all experience heartbreak, pain, tragedy, and hardship, in all colors, shapes, and sizes.

Every once in a while though, we open our eyes to find our world has suddenly turned itself upside down and shattered into pieces. In an instant, everything can change. The rug ripped out from under us faster than we can blink, taking our sense of purpose with it. The feeling of loss can overwhelm you.

Facing this sudden new reality, violently forced upon your ego, you find yourself standing at a precipice. The weight of your new circumstances can crush you if you let it. However, if you can bravely recognize this moment for what truly is, a new path will emerge. Adversity can offer us the rare opportunity for personal growth and self-actualization.

Often, after the initial shock wears off, we start to realize what truly matters; that life is short, and we only get one go at it. So many of us stay so blindly caught up in the rat race of life, that we never take the time to enjoy it or even appreciate what we have until its gone. We feel invincible until that unfortunate moment when the universe shows us otherwise.

In a beautiful irony though, clarity can be found within the chaos. A new, stronger sense of purpose can rise from the ashes of a torched worldview.

After surviving a near-death experience, Adam Braun, author of “The Promise of a Pencil” and founder of the amazing nonprofit Pencils for Promise, writes, “But I was also forever altered because I now knew that my life had purpose. Out of catastrophe emerged clarity. When faced with the prospect of death, something deep within me fought back. I was here for a reason.”

No matter how black the abyss you find yourself, there will ALWAYS be the possibility for happiness, success, and a meaningful life of purpose. You just have to know where to look to find it.

Finding Your New Purpose:

We only get one shot at this crazy game of life. The real question is; how can you make the most of the hand you’ve been dealt? Finding a new sense of purpose is crucial, and passion is the key.

The first step is to remain calm and begin to identify your options, gain an understanding of what is still within your control, and discover what choices there are to make.

In his incredible book, The Obstacle Is the Way, Ryan Holiday offers this modern take on the Stoic philosophy of finding opportunity within adversity:

“There are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try:

  • To be objective
  • To control emotions and keep an even keel
  • To choose to see the good in a situation
  • To steady our nerves
  • To ignore what disturbs or limits others
  • To place things in perspective
  • To revert to the present moment
  • To focus on what can be controlled

This is how you see the opportunity within the obstacle.”

The emotional weight of a life-changing adversity can make rational thought seem impossible. But if you stay calm and take inventory of your life, you will see that all is not lost. Your life path may have taken a sharp right turn, but change is not inherently good or bad. It’s up to you find the meaning.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What opportunities are still available to me?
  • What skills do I have? What am I gifted at?
  • What are some of the common themes of my previous life’s work?
  • What brings me joy and excitement?
  • How can I help or serve others?

You may be cut off from your previous life’s work, but that does not mean you can’t still pursue your interests. You just have to get a little bit creative. Explore your passions from a new angle, with a new approach, and you just might be pleasantly surprised to find yourself happier than you were before.

As much as you are capable, try new things. Discover what lights that fire in your mind. It’s okay to not have all the answers; as the famous cliché goes, ‘It’s about the journey, not the destination. ‘

Also, whenever possible, share your gifts with the world. Nothing will give you a greater sense of purpose and satisfaction than effectively serving others. Not everyone will change the world, but it’s within all of us to at least make our mark by helping others.

By doing something that you love, that gets you excited and brings you joy while at the same time serving others, you will likely find success, and a clear sense of purpose.

“Vocation is where our greatest joy meets the world’s greatest need” – Theologian Frederick Buechner

Step Outside of your Comfort Zone:

Make no mistake, finding passion and a new sense of purpose in your life will not be easy. It will take courage and strength and a deep sense of resolve. Don’t sell yourself short though. If you are struggling in the face of a seemingly impossible adversity, you may be banged up, bloody, and bruised, but you are still standing. You are stronger than you know.

One my favorite poems, “The Oak Tree” by Johnny Ray Ryder Jr, sums it up best:

The Oak Tree:

“A mighty wind blew night and day.
It stole the oak tree’s leaves away,
Then snapped its boughs and pulled its bark
Until the oak was tired and stark.

But still the oak tree held its ground
While other trees fell all around.
The weary wind gave up and spoke,
How can you still be standing Oak?

The oak tree said, I know that you
Can break each branch of mine in two,
Carry every leaf away,
Shake my limbs, and make me sway.

But I have roots stretched in the earth,
Growing stronger since my birth.
You’ll never touch them, for you see,
They are the deepest part of me.

Until today, I wasn’t sure
Of just how much I could endure.
But now I’ve found, with thanks to you,
I’m stronger than I ever knew.”

To find success, you will eventually need to step outside of your comfort zone. The problem is, your brain will come up with a million excuses not to; “It’s just not the right time yet” or “That would never work.” This is fear, plain and simple, nothing more; fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of shame, fear of feeling dumb.

The reality is that everyone who has ever accomplished anything of great value has faced the same fear. You must be brave in the face of this fear and realize it is far better to take a leap of faith and stumble then never to have tried at all. For now you know, that with every adversity comes growth and learning and opportunity. Face the fear knowing that, above all, it’s a sign that you are on the right path.

I wish you the best of luck on your journey.

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