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‘If you think you are beaten, you are. If you think you dare not, you don’t! If you want to win, but think you can’t, it’s almost a cinch you won’t. If you think you will lose, you are lost. For out in the world we find success begins with a fellows will. It’s all in the state of mind. Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger and faster man, but sooner or later the man who wins is the man who thinks he can’ – Walter D Wintle

I started the year (a few years ago) with a plan. My family was great. I had a prestigious C-suite job abundance and money in the bank… So what hit me? I was in the frame of ‘giving back’ in a way that I had never before due to something traumatic that happened to me. I had been the sole survivor in a fatal car crash in a foreign land during a business trip. After surgery and being repatriated back, I was bed ridden and home-bound for about six months. I was not sure if I was the victim or a survivor during that period! Shortly thereafter, I lost my job. My heart was ground to pieces. I was overcome with wrenching feelings of failure, inadequacy, ‘why me’ questions and began to wonder about my ability to put bread on the table (metaphorically). There is a saying “When it rains it pours’ and I am not alone in being a victim to such disparaging circumstances. I was struck and stuck and not moving forward. Has this ever happened to you? But then, this was the past and I have since re-grouped, overcome adversity and moved on with the help of family and friends.

Adversity is a part of life. It doesn’t discriminate and regardless of status, age, race, sex or class, adversity has no respect for anyone. It will forever be part of human existence. Adversity and not prosperity reveals the core of the person. Prosperity discovers vice, while adversity discovers virtue and the virtue that comes from adversity is fortitude. The good things that come from prosperity are to be wished, but the good things that belong to adversity are to be admired. We need to embrace the fact that we are being sharpened and not shattered by the pressures of life. Learning to deal with adversity is what makes us who we are. Every challenge and difficulty we successfully navigate in life serves to strengthen our will, confidence and ability to face and overcome future obstacles. You can run away from everything and everyone, except yourself. To achieve success, you need to face your adversities head-on. History is replete with tales of people who were convinced that their ideas, plans and dreams could not be achieved, but still persevered and accomplished them. Accomplishment came to those who said ‘I can make it happen’ and did so.

Adversity is a state of hardship, affliction or misfortune. It is the grindstone of life. It can either grind you down or polish you up. The impact and ultimate result depends on what you do with the difficulties that come your way. Consider the phenomenal achievements of people who experience great adversity: Beethoven composed his greatest works after becoming deaf. Sir Walter Raleigh wrote the history of the world during a thirteen year imprisonment. If Columbus had turned back, no one could have blamed him, considering the extreme adversity he had to endure. Luther translated the Bible while enduring confinement in the castle of Wartburg. The list goes on.

Heredotus, the Greek philosopher said “Adversity has the effect of drawing out the strengths and qualities of a man that would have lain dormant in its absence

Let’s begin by looking at setbacks vs adversity. A setback is a single specific event that impedes your forward progress and may leave you wondering. It hasn’t exactly defeated you but has caused you to pull back and re-group. Adversity on the other hand, rather than being a distinct occurrence, is more likely to be an ongoing unfavourable condition. It may not set you back, but often makes it harder for you to move forward.

Both require different responses. A setback often requires an immediate response and is geared specifically to removing the obstacles of reversing the situation, whatever it is. If you act quickly and decisively enough, you can turn a setback into a victory. With adversity, your response has to be longer term and ongoing. You are working to overcome not a single event, but a condition: it may take a while. The most important quality here is perseverance. You have to keep at it till things improve and get better and you are able to move forward again.

Resilience on the other hand is a process, rather than a trait to be had. There is a common myth that people who are resilient experience no negative emotions and display optimism in all situations. The reality is far to the contrary. Resiliency is demonstrated within individuals who can effectively balance negative emotions with the positive ones. The main contributing factor to a person’s resilience is having relationships inside or outside one’s family and community. It is the single most critical means of handling stress. These positive relationships include traits such as mutual respect, reciprocal support and caring. These relationships aid in bolstering a person’s resilience. Research has shown that there are several factors which develop and sustain a person’s resilience:

  • 1. The ability to make realistic plans and taking steps necessary to follow through with them
  • 2. A positive confidence on one’s strength and abilities that comes with a great deal of self-awareness
  • 3. Communication and problem-solving skills
  • 4. The ability to manage strong impulses and feelings

These qualities can be developed in any individual to increase resiliency.

In order to be resilient, one has to find the ‘Why’ or their purpose in life. What is it that moves you? What are the results that you want to create and what are the principles that will guide your behaviour when tested? i.e: your values.

Researchers of indigenous health have shown the impact of culture, religion, community values and prayer to have a profound impact on an individual’s resilience too. People with great tenacity have also demonstrated ‘hidden resilience’ when they do not conform to societies behavioural expectations.

Taking inspiration and learning from others who have been resilient and dealt with adversity successfully. There are many inspiring stories of people who overcame seemingly insurmountable odds. They triumphed over their adversities to live very successful lives, productive lives instead of surrendering to it:

‘Penniless, severely depressed, divorced, trying to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel’ – JK Rowling

Fired after one performance and told ‘you aren’t going nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck’ – Elvis Presley

The director wrote at the audition – ‘Can’t act, can’t sing, slightly bald. Can dance a little’ – Fred Astaire

Rejected from the University of Southern California School of theatre, film and television three times – Steven Spielberg

Fired from her first job as a television reporter because she was unfit for television – Oprah Winfrey

He was cut from his high school basketball team, went home, locked himself in his room and cried – Michael Jordan

Wasn’t able to speak till he was almost four years old and his teachers said he would never amount to much – Albert Einstein

Fired from a newspaper because he lacked imagination and had no original ideas – Walt Disney

He was rejected 27 times before his first children’s book was published – Dr Seuss

Was defeated at eight elections, failed in business twice and suffered a nervous breakdown – Abraham Lincoln

Overcame testicular cancer which spread to the brain and lungs (he was told he had only a 40% chance of survival) to come back and win the Tour de France seven more times. Lance has since admitted to taking steroids during his cycling career, however, he did still battle cancer and overcame immense odds. It's unfortunate that his career was not as exemplary as his will to overcome adversity – Lance Armstrong

These are just some of the stories of overcoming adversity. Dr. Barne Brown says ‘Think of yourself as a story. If you own the story, then write the ending to your story’. Resilience enabled all of these great people to push past their adversities and prevail. When you respond positively and constructively to your challenges, your strength, courage, character and perseverance emerge from deep inside you.


Blaming fate for the cards one has been dealt is perhaps the easiest option and the way to respond or rather not respond to life’s curved balls. To accept life’s difficulties as ‘fait accompli’ is rather seductive and the easy way of justification, where you do not take responsibility for your life. It is important to not let doubt; fear and uncertainty creep in as you go through periods of adversity. Since we are human, it is quite easy to get caught up in self-pity, unfairness of life and the ‘why me’ trap. When we do, we fail to recognize the opportunities for wisdom and growth that accompany adversity. Moving to self-belief and perseverance from doubt and relative apathy will be the focus of self-application.

The key areas of self-application from adversity to resilience include:

  • - Looking inside-out instead of looking outside-in and taking charge
  • - Believing that you have the power to change anything and make anything happen with a ‘I can attitude’
  • - Digging deep into your own purpose and values to create the results that you want
  • - Never getting discouraged with the seeming smallness of your life
  • - Forgetting the negativity in your past and carefully assessing your present strengths, successes and achievements
  • - Reflecting on the positive events in your life and quit limiting your potential by constantly thinking about what you have done poorly

Overcoming Adversity and into the realm of Resilience

  • Accept that adversity is an inevitable part of life. It has no respect for any one and spares no one. It comes in different forms and shapes. It may be, layoffs on the job, overwhelming debts, cheating spouses or failed marriages to name a few. Even though these situations can be devastating, life has to go on and we must do what is necessary to get through these arduous circumstances.
  • Build your own internal resources to face adversity
    • Before adversity hits you, work on cultivating emotional strength, courage and discipline. (It is something that can be built and one is not born with it). When you are prepared for the worst, the worst never happens. It is usually much less severe than anticipated
    • The ability to manage strong feelings and impulses
    • Not seeing yourself as a victim but as a victor
  • Build your external resource support system in anticipation of adversity
    • Build a support system of family and friends. When the going gets tough, we all need support and encouragement. Resilience comes from supportive relationships with parents, children, peers and others that will help people cope with the lumps and bumps in life
    • We all need someone to reach out to and talk to. Often a friend or a family member may have had a similar experience and can help guide us through our own journey of adversity. Just knowing there are people you can reach out to can be very comforting.
    • We all need people in our lives that are willing to stand up once in a while and say “I think you are wonderful’!
  • That which does not kill you will make you stronger
    • Resilience is like a muscle which is built up gradually and exponentially with repeated exposure to obstacles. If you lack practise in confronting obstacles (as a result of your choosing to avoid them), one traumatic event can take you down and keep you there.

Coaching Application

There are many techniques that we can use to help a client overcome adversity. The primary source however, should come from within.

What if you asked your client to share three words that describe their life? Would their focus be on the lumps, bumps and unfairness in the lives or are they committed to dwell on the things that are good, right and lovely and what they are indeed grateful for?

Wise men and philosophers have disagreed on a lot of things, but are unanimous on one point – ‘we become what we think about’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson. ‘A man is what he thinks about all day long’. Human thought has the power to influence reality. If you change your thoughts, you can change your world through the power of intention and attention. If the client has a strong visual of the end result in their mind, the power tool of Visualization can be used to actualize their goals which help them build the intensity of the emotion of success and well-being to overcome adversity through resilience. To be able to get up and move forward every time you have been kicked in the gut can only happen if you have clarity of purpose, a strong visual of the end result and a motivation that comes from within.

Most of us experience different zones depending on whether we are facing a setback, dealing with adversity or having emerged from it. It is critical to identify which zone the client is in and help them move into the next natural state.

Explore with your clients ways to:

  • - Look for learning opportunities in every adverse situation
  • - Decide whether you will allow your experience to make, or break you. Depending upon how you choose to perceive it, it could go either way
  • - Prepare for adversity - Be prepared to accept the worst, should it occur. When you have prepared yourself mentally for the worst, it rarely ever happens, and if it does, it seems less so because you are better equipped to handle it
  • - Focus on the goals and being sharpened by setbacks and not to be shattered by them
  • - Emphasize that failure is not an option and it is only success delayed
  • - Meet the client’s expectations when they feel disempowered from lack of progress or temporary failure
  • - Help the client with the what, how and why, when they feel disenchanted in the ‘here and now’
  • - Help the client look internally at themselves to be able to draw their source of inspiration either from their environment, family, community, religion or even prayer and spirituality


  • 1. List your purpose and values
  • 2. What is your support structure at the moment? Do you need to make any adjustments to them? Do you trust them?
  • 3. What commitment and action do you really want to take immediately?
  • 4. What are some techniques that you can develop to remain ‘mindful’ in situations with great adversity?
  • 5. Help your client get an emotional high and playing to their strengths especially during periods of extended uncertainty
  • 6. How can you as a coach support your client when you see their resilience slipping?
  • 7. As a coach, what are some powerful questions you could ask your client to help them overcome adversity?


When the client understands that the key to accomplishment is believing that what they do will make a difference, they will be able to move from adversity to resilience.


Peshawaria, Rajeev. Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders: The Art of Being a True Leader. New York: Free, 2011. Print.