Overcoming Adversity

by | Jul 9, 2024 | Personal Growth

“Our greatest weakness is giving up. The most certain way to success is to try one more time.”
— Thomas Edison

Just when life gets comfortable, something gets in the way or throws us for a loop. An unexpected event, question, or challenge that we did not anticipate. We face adversity.

Adversity is a state of hardship, difficulty, or misfortune. The question is not if we will face adversity but when, and how we will respond. Do we blame others, own up, or give up?

Our adversity response is a window into our character.

As the CEO of Charles Schwab, Walt Bettinger hires hundreds of people each year. Over his lifetime he admits to his share of hits, misses, and surprises. A technique he recently adopted has been highly effective — he takes a candidate to breakfast.

Inviting a candidate to breakfast is not unique but his approach is quite different. Walt asks the restaurant manager to purposely mess with the candidate’s breakfast order and observes their reaction. Do they get upset? Do they manage the mistake with grace?

I have had my “breakfast” moments at work. Receiving constructive criticism when I anticipated praise. Organizational changes that caused fear in my employees as well as myself. These challenges made me uncomfortable and confused. I had to rely on my character and mentors who encouraged me to own the situation and persevere.

Adversity has taught me to become a careful observer of how people respond to obstacles. Some of my peers deflected their adversity onto others, including me, or blamed the organization or their management for their dissatisfaction. Others resigned to the cliché “it is what it is.” These Individuals were operating from a point of weakness, not strength, and it clearly was not where I wanted to be.

The group I paid attention to embraced reflection, not deflection, and were determined to expect and grow through adversity. They learned from the experience.

Three keys to overcoming adversity:


Our first impulse when an obstacle enters our orderly world can be discouragement and negative thoughts. Take a moment to reframe the experience into a positive state — what is possible with this new development? Challenges by events and people offer insights to a better way.

Emotional Control

Obstacles test our patience and resilience. Our behavior is watched by others to see how we respond. The leader who calmly says “hold on a minute, let’s make sure we understand what is happening before we act” is admired and followed. Adversity is when leaders shine through patience, seeking alternative points of view, and action.


Be prepared for the unexpected — the breakfast moment. For example, let’s say you have scheduled a session with your supervisor to get feedback on your performance. Instead of expecting the supervisor to provide detailed feedback, a rare situation, expect them to ask you “how do you think you are performing?” Own the conversation by providing a constructive assessment of your performance.

Read to Lead

Leaders benefit from being active readers, long reads not just social media posts and news feeds. A deep read builds concentration, strengthens your intellectual capacity, and offers wisdom you can share. As you refresh or build your reading habit, diversify your experience — old, new, fiction, non-fiction, audio, hard cover, and e-readers.

My July 2024 favorites:

The Women by Kristin Hannah

I am a huge fan of author Kristin Hannah and have read her most recent four books. This novel features a young nurse whose life is changed by the Vietnam War. A powerful look at the role of female nurses in the military and their experience as they returned home. I was amazed at the work these medical teams performed under stressful conditions, and the ability of nurses to provide individual care to soldiers who would never return to their loved ones. How they were perceived once they returned home, often insulted, and not viewed as heroes, was difficult to read.

In My Time of Dying by Sebastian Junger

A near-fatal health emergency leads to this powerful reflection on death — and what might follow — by the bestselling author of Tribe and The Perfect Storm. The author details his thoughts as he suffered a mysterious illness that had him minutes from death, only to recover and recount his experiences. His perspective on death and the questions around afterlife are remarkably interesting.