"Great individuals, like great companies, find a way to transform weakness into strength. It's a rather amazing, even touching, feat. They took what should have held them back – what might in fact be holding you back this very second – and used it to move forward. – Ryan Holiday
Adversity is a part of life. Nobody gets through it without a setback, devastating loss or getting punched in the face. It's possible and even likely that we'll get hurt, fired, insert terrible life experience of your choice. We can't control an event. But we do get to decide whether we will let our temporary circumstances become our permanent identity or transform adversity into opportunity.
1. Acknowledge Reality
If you owned a video rental store when Netflix started, the reality was that your business would eventually be obsolete. Blockbuster refused to acknowledge this. Soon afterwards, they went out of business.
When you don't acknowledge reality and try to change it with positive thinking, you engage in delusional optimism. And plenty of delusional optimists have seen their fortunes vanish or have followed their passion into poverty.
Delusional optimism is pervasive in the world of personal development. And it does nothing for your ability to transform adversity into opportunity.
Influencers and authority figures encourage aspiring dreamers to take reckless risks, spend money they don't have, and then leave them to pick up the pieces. Of course, things work out for some of these risk-takers. But focusing on outliers causes confirmation bias.
If you have to spend 1000 dollars in rent but invest it in a program that promises to transform your life, that's not inspiring. It's stupid – and the person who encourages this has a questionable moral compass.
In battle, surrender indicates defeat and puts us in a position of weakness. But in life, surrender indicates acceptance and put us in a position of power. If we want to have power over our future reality, we need to acknowledge and accept our current one.
2. Resist the Temptation to Panic
"If an emotion can't change the condition or the situation you're dealing with, it is likely an unhelpful emotion. Or, quite possibly, a destructive one." – Ryan Holiday
When one of my distant cousins was learning to drive, her mother would grab the door handle on the roof of the car. She named the handle the "oh shit bar". And each of us dealt with our parents holding onto the "oh shit bar" while learning to drive.
Grabbing the bar did nothing to prevent an accident. Because it freaked out the person in the driver seat, it increased the likelihood of an accident. That's what happens when we give in to our temptation to panic.
When shit hits the fan in our lives, our natural temptation is to panic. But when we panic, our judgment is clouded by our emotions. We see dead ends instead of detours. A minor failure becomes a massive one and we run the risk of doing irreversible damage to our lives.
Say your business takes a hit. If you panic, you'll start to imagine catastrophic scenarios. But if you pause, you'll have space and time to imagine solutions. In the words of Ryan Holiday, "Focus on the moment, not the monster that may or may not lie ahead."
In the summer of 2013, I was let go from a freelance writing job that was one of my biggest sources of income. The CEO of Search Engine Journal said, "It's not because of your performance. But I think you've outgrown the role."
For once in my life, I resisted the temptation to panic. Every loss creates an opening in our lives. With the opening created by losing my freelance writing gig, I put all my energy into writing 'The Art of Being Unmistakable'. Thanks to Glenn Beck and the freakish success of that book, I made 30 times what I did at my freelance writing gig within two months.
As Victor Frankl said, it's in between stimulus and response that we find our power. We can react and give into our first impulse we or we can pause. By pausing between stimulus and response, we can resist the temptation to panic.
When we give into our temptation to panic, we become blind to all the ways we might be able to transform adversity into opportunity.
3. Observe and Reflect
Pausing between stimulus and response grants us the time and space to observe and reflect. We're able to listen to ourselves, ask questions, and raise our self-awareness about our current situation or circumstance.
Because we've acknowledged reality, we can ask with more objectivity, "What good might come from this? How might I be better off than before? Who do I want to be on the other side of this?"
- A broken heart can teach you how to love yourself like your life depends on it
- The person who hurt or betrayed you could teach you about the power of forgiveness
As tragic as our current pandemic has been, it's leading to some profound changes in human behavior. One of my roommates calls it "a long-overdue evolution in human consciousness". A global crisis is teaching us a lot about social connection.
When we don't take the time to observe and reflect, history is liable to repeat itself. But if we do, the people who hurt us and the experiences that disappoint us can lead to some of our most valuable life lessons.
4. Change your Perspective
When you shift your focus from things happening to you (making you a victim) to recognizing that they are happening for you (for your growth, development and ultimate strengthening), you not only take back your power in life but recognize the much bigger implications and echoes of your actions. – Emily Fletcher, How to Stress Less and Accomplish More
Throughout my life, anytime something bad happens, my dad always says, "Whatever happens, it's for your own good." Setbacks like getting dumped or losing a job never feel like they are happening for the best at the moment.
But in retrospect, people frequently say that the worst moment of their life was the best thing that ever happened to them. Some of those include major setbacks like
Losing a job
The end of a relationship
When I finished my MBA in 2009, I was broke, I didn't have a job and my graduation felt more like a funeral than a celebration. But if it hadn't been for that experience, I would have never become a surfer and author or started the Unmistakable Creative.
When we look at adversity from the perspective of the good that could come from it, we build the DNA of emotional resilience.
5. Consider Both the Possibility and the Probability of the Future you Want to Create
You're probably not going be the next Steve Jobs, Beyoncé or Oprah. But that doesn't mean that you can't have a rich and rewarding life. The delusional optimist focuses exclusively on possibility while the rational optimist considers possibility and probability.
It's possible I could make it to the NBA if I followed Lebron's training regimen every day. But given that I'm a scrawny Indian with limited athletic ability, the probability that I'd even be on a court with Lebron is zero.
For every risk we take and every decision we make, we have to consider possible outcomes and the probability of those outcomes. We can make much better decisions by thinking in bets.
6. Develop a Plan to Transform Adversity into Opportunity
One of my teammates used to say that the more time you spend planning, the less time you spend executing. There's definitely a grain of truth to that. But it's important that planning doesn't become procrastination.
If you want to go from idea to done, it helps to have some sort of planning framework. The one that I've found to be most effective is comes from Scott Belsky's book Making Ideas Happen. Chances are, you do this unconsciously with everything you finish.
But if you're going to turn adversity into opportunity, you want to be deliberate about this. Scott offers the following three-step framework:
- Action Steps
- Reference Material
- Backburner items
The biggest mistake people make with action steps is trying to identify every step at the start. This is like driving from LA to Chicago and expecting every light to be green. Steps will reveal themselves throughout a project because the creative process isn't linear.
7. Take Action
When it comes to taking action, don't underestimate the power of starting small. The little things we do repeatedly lead to big changes in our lives. One small step that seems insignificant today will lead to v virtuous cycle of visible progress, momentum, and motivation.
As Seth Godin says, the best way to be where you want to be a year from now or 10 years from now is to do something today that you'll be glad you did.
8. Live In the Moment, but Keep Your Eyes on The Horizon
We can plan and map out the future until we are blue in the face. But nobody can predict the future and sometimes life doesn't go according to plan. We design our future with the actions we take in the present.
Surfers spend hours in the waters, waiting for waves. Mother Nature has her own schedule. So surfers learn to live in the moment but keep their eyes on the horizon.
By all means, prepare, plan, and do everything you can to design the future your desire. But don't get so caught up in the future that you neglect the present moment. That will be detrimental to your ability to transform adversity into opportunity.
We are all going through one of the most challenging times in human history. It can be hard to find an upside to a crisis in a moment like this.
Putting it All into Action
- Start by acknowledging the reality of your current situation. If it sucks, don't be afraid to admit that to yourself. By admitting it to yourself, you go from resistance to surrender
- Observe and Reflect: You can do this with a journal or through a daily meditation habit
- Make a list of possible outcomes and assign a probability to each one
- Develop a plan for the positive outcome with the highest probability
- Write down a series of action steps you can take and get to work
The other day, I was interviewing someone who has climbed all seven summits. He said that there's energy to hitting rock bottom that we can't access any other way. It disappears when we become comfortable again. We can take advantage of it or waste it on our suffering.
Rock bottom is one of our greatest opportunities to transform adversity into opportunity.
Remember that the obstacle is the way and that you can turn trials into triumphs and adversity into opportunity. As Ashley Ambirge wrote in *The Middle Finger Project, "*There's a silver lining to every shit storm."
You don't have to do any of this alone
There's one thing a lot of creative people don't talk that much about. None of their accomplishments would be possible with all support they receive from behind the scenes. It's why we created The Unmistakable Creative Listener Tribe. It's totally free to Join. Click Here to learn more.