Dealing with Life’s Difficulties

"Everyone goes through adversity in life. What matters is how you learn from it.” - Lou Holtz

I spent an embarrassingly large portion of my life trying to avoid adversity at all costs. It’s mainly because I don’t like conflict, but it’s also related to me being a recovering perfectionist. For many years, I equated being happy with not having to struggle. I worked hard and wasted so many countless hours plotting and avoiding adversity that I probably definitely sold myself short on life experiences and lessons learned. In my quest for perfection and a life of ease, I ended up cheating myself out of rich experiences and opportunities for growth. It’s almost sad in retrospect.

What I failed to realize for so many years is that bad things and negative situations are a part of life. Facing adversity is an outgrowth of putting yourself out there and having experiences. Effectively dealing with life’s difficulties is a central part of overcoming them. Life is all about taking the good with the bad. What I’ve since realized is that learning to deal with less-than-ideal situations is an effective life management strategy. Trying to avoid them at all costs is an unrealistic fantasy. It’s just not possible. Of course, bad things will happen. Count on it.

So what are we do to? The answer that’s resonated most deeply with me is to learn to be resilient in the face of adversity. Hone your resilience instead of focusing your energy and effort on avoiding adversity, negative situations, or setbacks. Figure out a way to overcome the adversity – to surmount it – instead of resorting to an avoidance strategy. It’s in wading through that adversity that you’ll be able to grow, evolve, and make a difference.

To get started, do nothing. (Yes, really.) In the moment, once it’s evident that adversity is here, don’t waste your time, effort, and energy fighting it. Surrender to reality and embrace adversity as what’s actually happening and do your best to survive it, right at first. When it’s time to act, tread lightly. Move slowly. Last fall, my husband Jeremy said something about depression that actually helped me to realize something about dealing with struggle, in general.

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His words resonated with my core and made so much sense to me. Dealing with adversity is exactly like dealing with riptide: don’t fight the big waves. Just ride along until you get closer to the shore and can escape it. To survive, don’t hit the tide head on and fight it with everything you’ve got. That’s a recipe for disaster. Instead, ride it out. Focus your energy on keeping your head above water and getting yourself to a safe place. Once you’re safe and out of eminent danger, you can figure out how to proceed from there.

For maximum impact and to ensure that adversity isn’t in vain, train yourself to see it as an opportunity. This may be difficult for those of you that don’t have an optimistic bent, but I assure you it’s worth the effort. Adversity is the equivalent of the rubber meeting the road. It’s a sign from the universe that it’s time for change or growth, whether it’s welcome or not. When you realize you’re facing adversity and your instinct is to do nothing but RUN AWAY, pause. Recognize that your fight or flight impulse is kicking in. Take a moment to regain your composure. Focus on something tangible and comforting, and then ask yourself this question: what can I learn here? Or better yet: what is this here to teach me? (a classic but relevant Oprah-ism)

The bottom line is that when you’re able to look at adversity as opportunity, life will get more interesting and you’ll be well-positioned to experience meaningful growth.

Reader feedback:

How are you at dealing with adversity? Do you have strategies and tactics that you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments section below. When we share our ideas and our lessons, we help others in the process.

Put it in practice:

Next time you’re faced with adversity, pause. Ask yourself this question: what can I learn here? Take stock of what you’ve learned and how you put it into practice. If you’re willing to share, please come back and comment about it. I’d love to hear how this worked in practice for someone besides me!