Embracing Adversity

By Bill Sanders

Time to read: 3 minutes

Having lived for over ten years in Santa Rosa, California, I still have many friends in that community. Everyone I know who lives there had to evacuate, and three friends lost their homes in the recent firestorm. Areas of the city are completely devastated, and it will take years for the city to rebuild.

As I’ve talked to friends affected by the fire, the ones that are bouncing back the quickest are showing three distinct responses.


Losing everything you own in a fire can be devastating. Even when insured, many things can't be replaced, like photos and keepsakes. The impact is real and requires a grieving process, but it's easy to get stuck and defined by loss.

The idea that “this too shall pass,” goes a long way toward helping keep a healthy perspective on any loss. The loss of possessions shouldn't define us any more than the loss of a job or the end of a marriage, but we all know people that still seem to identify themselves by adverse life events in the past.


The second response I’m seeing is gratitude. Everyone one of my friends who is bouncing back start by telling of the loss and then finish the story with a list of what they didn’t lose. They are grateful that they still have their lives, health, and families.


I hear stories every week about how the community is pulling together in Santa Rosa. From self-organized neighborhood watches that spontaneously sprung up the day after the fire, to people and local businesses donating to the emergency shelters, the engagement and generosity are notable.

The Purpose of Adversity

“Sure,” you say, “perspective, gratitude, and engagement; aren’t these all just bromides and coping mechanisms?”

They certainly can be. But what if these responses are the natural result of looking at adversity as the way we grow? What if these reactions are the natural outgrowth of seeing setbacks, losses, and unexpected problems as new machines in the gym?

Every skill you and I have is the result of learning something new and then exercising that knowledge. Every problem we solve either is a result of or adds to that skillset.

Adversity is the weight we push against to develop the skills we need to lead.

Adversity is the weight we push against to develop the skills we need to lead. No Mr. or Ms. Olympia ever won by being in resistance to the gym or the required diet. No Nobel prize winner ever one by being in resistance to their research.

Sure, the challenges may have been frustrating and difficult. Running a business or department or team can be a royal pain. But it is a lot more enjoyable pursuit when we embrace the problems, the unexpected, and the losses as opportunities to grow and learn.

The fire can define us, or we can let our response to the fire define us.

About the author: Bill Sanders helps leaders and organizations adapt, grow and thrive in rapidly changing environments. He is Principal and Sr. Consultant with Roebling Strauss, an operational strategy consultancy that specializes in delivering dramatic improvements in organizational effectiveness, Lead Link of the Finance Circle for Great Work Cultures, a community dedicated to creating a new norm for work cultures that optimize worker effectiveness and human happiness, and an Advisor to the C-Suite Network, the world’s most trusted network of C-Suite leaders. Connect with Bill on twitter at @technacea.

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