How Can Adversity Lead To Success?

“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” Is there anything behind that sentence, or is it just something that we like to say? Our society loves stories of people who overcame difficult childhoods or big challenges and managed to find success. Are they rare occasions trouted out to make us feel good, or can we really use challenges, adversity, and failures to our benefit?

In my own life, I’ve felt that some of my earlier struggles have led to success later on. In my video, I mention how difficulty in school as a child led me to be able to be more successful in school when I grew older. I was born in Ghana and moved to Norway at an early age. After only several years there, we moved to the USA. Obviously, the language was an issue for me early on in school. I also had problems with my eyesight, and I was almost held back in school. In the video, I talk about how these struggles led me to become a better student in middle school. I continued on to college – and then grad school – even though some of my high school teachers made it known they didn’t believe in me. Wanting to prove to myself that I could be successful in school was a much stronger motivator than if I had just gone off to college because I felt I was expected to.

Motivation is everything, and I became interested in understanding just how I used my challenges to motive myself and push myself to succeed more. I hope that in this way, other people can use their own challenges to their advantage.

So, what are the ways that adversity can lead to success?

One way that adversity can help you is by making you more willing to try new things. In my case, I felt that I had already seen what “failure” looked like – so anything new I would try could be an improvement to my current situation, no matter how hard it seemed. When you’re struggling, you become open to ideas and solutions you wouldn’t have considered before.

When we come across challenges, we develop different and better ways to deal with similar challenges in the future. Having a big fight early on with someone you’re dating can be daunting and make you doubt the whole relationship. It can also be an incredible tool for understanding each other on a deeper level. Knowing what each person’s triggers are, how they are used to solving conflicts, and how they need to be supported will help you in the future when inevitable stresses come up.

Adversity also causes us to re-evaluate everything in our lives. For example, when we lose our jobs, not only have things been shaken up – we also have more time and more reason to ask ourselves a lot of questions. Was I happy with that job? Is this the field I want to continue in? Where can I experience more growth? Is there anything that I would like to change? This shaking up can lead you to find more success than if the challenge hadn’t popped up to begin with. Staying in the same job might have been easier, but perhaps the new job holds a lot more potential. While you look for a new job, you might be inspired to finally set up the business you’ve been dreaming of or starting to write a book.

A major way adversity makes us stronger is by reaffirming our confidence in our ability to handle anything. When we feel that we can’t do something, we can look back to a challenging time we thought we wouldn’t be able to handle – and remind ourselves that we did. This is why armies start off by forcing new recruits to go through a long, grueling march with lots of weight on their backs. Every new recruit feels they won’t be able to finish – and when they finally do, they understand that they probably could have done even more. Setbacks in life are unavoidable. Getting the major ones “out of the way” early on can make the next ones seem smaller and more tolerable by comparison.

Adversity can also kill bad habits. You’ve probably heard of addicts talking about their “rock bottom” that made them understand they need to give up the alcohol or other drugs, but it doesn’t have to be so extreme. Getting dumped can force you to get over your passive-aggressive way of communicating. Losing money can lead to cutting back on unnecessary shopping or even a cigarette habit. These are things that were never healthy but still could have slipped by unnoticed.

In many cases, you will look back on past challenges an be grateful to have had them. The lessons learned are so invaluable that we wouldn’t change the pain for anything. It can be difficult to remember when we’re in the midst of the crisis and we doubt if we can go on. I hope I was able to remind you.

How To Avoid Dwelling On Past Mistakes

We’ve all been there. You lie down to go to sleep at night, but instead, memories come back to haunt you. From something as innocent as calling someone by the wrong name, to that time you left an interview and realized you’d had a big stain on your shirt the whole time. Or maybe you keep beating yourself up about that time you fell asleep when you were supposed to meet a friend, leaving them stranded alone somewhere, waiting for you. These memories of your past mistakes can often haunt you and follow you around – at school, at work, during dinner with your family. They mess up our focus and our good mood.

When these memories come up, judgment usually follows. You find yourself thinking, “I’m stupid, I always mess up, I never get it right”… We can be quite creative with the ways we come up with to bring ourselves down. We’re often our own worst critics, and hold ourselves to higher standards than we do others.

Thinking about our mistakes isn’t necessarily bad. After all, we do want to improve ourselves by learning from them. However, it’s a pretty thin between thinking about our past mistakes and ruminating on them, and it’s easy to fall into the latter without realizing it.

Repeatedly thinking about your mistakes can be a form of rumination. Rumination literally means “chewing the cud” – as in, when a cow regurgitates it’s food and chews it over again. This term can apply in a similar fashion when we do the same with our thoughts – we bring them up and keep going over our negative experiences repetitively. Rumination can trigger depression and anxiety. Therefore, learning how to recognize and deal with it can be essential. The real question is how to do that. Here are some tips.

  • Remember that everyone makes mistakes. It’s impossible to go through life without making them. If you don’t make any, you probably aren’t doing enough. The only way you wouldn’t be making any mistakes is if you locked yourself up in your room – and even then, you would probably spill a glass of water on yourself or drop and break your phone at one point or another. Listen to Big Bird on repeat if needed. Remember how a child falls down a thousand times before they learn to walk, but you wouldn’t be judging him for it. Try and grant yourself the same level of understanding.
  • Remind yourself of the good things you have done. Yes, you’ve made a mistake. What else have you done? Listened to a friend who really needed to rant? Helped out someone at work? Gotten praise for an essay you’ve written? Gone to the gym consistently, even when you didn’t feel like it? If you really dig into it, you’ll probably find that the list of good things you do easily measures up to your mistakes.
  • Give yourself 24 hours to dwell. I refer to this as the Marcus Mariota Rule in my video. The NFL quarterback recommends giving yourself a set amount of time to think about what happened. For an hour or one day, you can sit and think of nothing else other than your mistakes. Then, you let yourself move on. That way, you prevent yourself from turning one loss into another.
  • Read about cognitive distortions. When we dwell on our past mistakes, we tend to get attached to our stories and judge them. Familiarize yourself with some common cognitive distortions. Coined by psychologists Aaron Beck and David Burns, cognitive distortions are a major part of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) – an extremely popular and effective form of therapy. When you find yourself dwelling on the same stories, label your thoughts – “ah, there’s that black and white thinking again”, or “Oh, I’m just catastrophizing”. You’re probably tired of hearing it, but meditation can help you practice the skill of noticing, labeling, and finally letting thoughts go.
  • Talk to someone about it. We’re often so locked in our own mind, that we can’t see the situation objectively. Hearing other people’s opinions can change your perspective about the things you judge yourself so harshly for.
  • …And pretend that someone else is talking to you. Imagine that your friend is telling you about the mistake that you’ve made – except they’re the ones who made it. Picture them describing themselves as you are doing to yourself. Would you let them call themselves failures? Would you recommend they let their mistake follow them around all week? Think about what you would tell your friend, and then offer the same advice to yourself.
  • Remind yourself that you did what you could at the time. It’s easy to judge ourselves in hindsight after we know how things turned out. We forget that when we were at that moment, we only had a certain amount of resources. Perhaps we didn’t have enough information, or we may have been distracted, tired or stressed.

Check out the video for a more in-depth look at the Marcus Mariota Rule, how he deals with losing and how to stay focused.

I Can’t Wait … For Right Now

I spent the last few weeks of 2018 reflecting about how exhausting the year was. Three consecutive semesters of school throughout the year (along with clinical rotations) left me semi-burned out and forced me to spend a lot of days resting and planning for the New Year. 2019 is supposed to be — and will be — a big year for me in many ways. I plan on finally graduating from my doctoral degree program, transiting from a RN to a provider, taking my clothing company to a new level, collaborating with awesome organizations like Mental Health America, and even positioning myself to pursue business opportunities in areas that I’m passionate about. On a personal level, I hope to spend more time with family and friends and most importantly freeing up time for me so I can continue to grow and learn who I am as a person. I can’t wait to see what this year holds for me and the people around me….

At the same time, one key lesson that I am learning is to make an active attempt to appreciate EVERYTHING — and that includes the good and the bad. It is human nature to appreciate things, places, & people AFTER the fact. You often hear people talk about how things were better and much “simpler” in the past but you’ll rarely hear the same person acknowledge the things that are going great in their life at the moment. For me, it’s extremely tempting to not get too carried away and obsess about the future. 

I often catch myself thinking about graduation and wondering how well the upcoming book will do, & often forget about how good life is NOW. 

I’m healthy and blessed to be alive, my family and friends are doing well and have their basic needs met, my car works, I’m still employed, I’m able to afford Chick-Fil-A once or twice a week, AND neither one of my brothers have figured out how to stop my 4-3 blitzes on Madden 19. =)

Gratitude is the secret ingredient to contentment, which to me is a more satisfying feeling than the transient feelings of “happiness” we often spend most of our lives chasing. 

Though I’m writing this as a blog post online, I’m preaching to myself as well. The next time I catch myself over-extending and neglecting today’s blessings, I’ll quickly remind myself about how I can’t wait to appreciate the “right now”, today!

PSAFE4 Fashion Show
Atlanta, GA (2018)



To follow along on my journey

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