We all know entrepreneurs who have overcome adversity, like the recent business recession or personal setbacks, and achieved success. There are famous people like Walt Disney and Nelson Rockefeller, who overcame learning disabilities, and people like J. C. Penney and J. K Rowling who struggled through personal bad times before finding their true legacy.
I’ve always been interested in how this works, and why it’s true. I’ve listened to several speakers with personal stories of overcoming adversity, and the message is always that tough times can make you stronger, wiser, and better. I’ve seen real examples, so I believe it, but the how and why are more elusive.
In a book I read a while back, titled “The Power of Adversity,” Al Weatherhead details his personal story of overcoming family and personal obstacles, including alcoholism, heart disease, and serious arthritis, to become an inventor, a wealthy entrepreneur, and active philanthropist. For most, I think it starts with having the survivor instinct, rather than accepting the victim role.
Beyond that, Al outlines his techniques for mastering adversity, which I believe can add value for every entrepreneur out there. Hopefully, your adversities are not as disastrous as his, but applying the same principles should still have a strengthening effect:
• Use the power of positive attitude and mindset. Developing a positive attitude about adversity seems essential to tapping its power to enhance and improve your life. A wise man once said, “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which, in prosperous circumstances, would have lain dormant.”
• Meditation is the art of letting go. Practicing meditation creates and sustains your positive mindset. Don’t think of meditation in the classic Zen sense, as exercising or swimming daily is also a way of letting your mind go. You may realize that adversity is just another name for the series of choices called life.
• Communicate your goals and desires. A great gift of adversity is coming to understand that you can only resolve your problems when you share your life with others. You simply must reach out to others, or you will never overcome adversity.
• Practice sharing, not controlling. Don’t confuse the need to control with connection. As you truly connect with others – revealing, extending, and expressing yourself – the layers of adversity will peel away like an onion. Surround yourself with strong people who can help you get through the tough times.
• Acceptance is the key. Adversity at some point in your life is inevitable. The more you refuse to accept it and deal with it, the more you will lose. Denial and running away never helps. Those who choose to be strong, rather than choose to suffer, will overcome it and may actually thrive.
• Embrace the bounce. In business and your personal life, it’s all about being resilient. That means look beyond the challenges of the moment, and identify and integrate the new insights and convictions that adversity so often presents.
Your challenge, like Al’s, is to turn adversity into success. He believes that you have to be both creative and patient to discover the multiple solutions that will unravel the knots of your adversity. In these ways, you will move ever closer to mastering it, and be that much more at peace.
But even with all this, I’m still not sure that I understand why this works. I’m sure many of you out there have been through more adversity than me (my life has been a walk in the park, compared to Al). Help me understand what worked for you and why.
CEO & Founder of Startup Professionals, Inc.; Advisory Board Member for multiple startups; ATIF Angels Selection Committee; Entrepreneur in Residence at ASU and Thunderbird School of Global Management.