“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.