Adversity. It’s All Good.

“If you live long enough, you’ll make mistakes. But if you learn from them, you’ll be a better person. It’s how you handle adversity, not how it affects you. The main thing is never quit, never quit, never quit” – William J. Clinton

I don’t believe in “good things” or “bad things.”  When good things happen, we have a tendency to coast, enjoy, relax.  That’s great!  We should all be able to relax and enjoy the fruits of our labor.   However, the downside of everything going right is that we lack the incentive to grow.  After all, why change when we’re comfortable and happy?

Not that I would wish “bad things” on anyone.  Rather, I wish that everyone would view setbacks, adversity, mistakes as an opportunity to reflect, learn, adjust, and grow.  According to Jonathan Haidt, author of the Happiness Hypothesis, the growth opportunities resulting from adversity are most impactful for young people – teens and twenty-somethings – as they derive the most benefit from adversity compared to someone in mid-life.  Good thing for them since they (particularly the teenagers) often seem to generate a lot of it!  Our Baby Boom generation hasn’t helped much either by providing this economy and deficit as they’re trying to launch.  But I digress.

In short, we can all benefit from adversity and setbacks, but young adults potentially can derive the most growth from these opportunities.  I know from personal experience that my feelings of isolation, rejection, invisibility, unfairness, self-loathing all helped me as a young woman forge into someone with determination, conviction, drive, and accomplishment.  Back then, I had a choice as to whether to use that adversity to forge myself into a stronger person, or to just allow life to beat me down.

Yes, this is an important lesson for all of us.  And we should not overly-protect our young people from this lesson.

When our kids were in daycare (preschool age), there was a child who was overly aggressive and acting out superhero antics (think:  can of whoop-ass) on the other children.  His parents defended the behavior saying that they think children should get used to this kind of behavior since “it’s a hard world out there.”  This is true, but we have a duty to protect our children when they’re pretty much defenseless.  The point is that age-appropriate lessons and consequences should be imparted on our young.  We should neither beat them down at a young age no more than we should helicopter-parent protect them into their twenties.

As is often the case with this blog, this helpful advice falls into the category of “easier said than done.”  With kids, not only do their needs and abilities change with age, but each child is different.   It takes true wisdom to find the right balance, and true wisdom is rare and fleeting.  After 20 years of parenting, I can list a couple of examples where we made the tough decisions as parents, that in hindsight were spot-on.  I can list dozens more where we missed the mark, but we did try to learn from every mistake.

The parenting moments I’m most proud of had to do with requiring our children to abide by their commitments, stick it out instead of quitting, when it would’ve been easier for all of us to just let them quit.  They wanted to quit scouting at one point – now they’re both on the verge of becoming Eagle scouts.  One wanted to quit the language immersion program they entered – now he’s fluent in French and ended up having a fantastic and memorable experience.   Another wanted to bail on a promise to go on a difficult, weeklong backpacking trip – now he loves backpacking and even led a backpacking trip last year for freshman pre-orientation program.

Despite a year of smoothly managing change and upheaval, currently I am struggling with my own feelings of victimization and anxiety regarding the combination of our imminent move and the fact that our old house has not yet sold.   It’s neither logical nor helpful, and inconsequential compared to what others are going through.  Yet here I am.  I am realizing now that my growth opportunity has to do with managing my anxiety around financial issues.  To be at peace with the financial aspects of this situation will be a milestone for me.

As a strengths coach, I will rely on my strengths to manage this anxiety and learn from it.  My Strategic is lining up resources for the worst case scenario, my Relator will ask for support from my friends and family (especially Chris to help be my barometer for monitoring my feelings), my Connectedness will find meaning in the lesson, my Ideation will continue to look for creative solutions to anything that might arise.   I can trust myself and my relationship to manage what comes my way.  There now, don’t I feel better and more confident already?