How do you manage adversity? Admiral Jim Stockdale, a prisoner of war tortured by the Vietcong for eight years, was interviewed in the book Good to Great. The author, Jim Collin, asked Stockdale about the personality profile of those who didn’t make it out of the camp.
“That’s easy, said Stockdale. “The optimists. They were the ones who said we were going to be out by Christmas. And then they said we’d be out by Easter. And then by the Fourth of July, then by Thanksgiving, and then it was Christmas again. They died of a broken heart.”
You don’t confront adversity with rose-colored glasses. A big part of managing adversity involves seeing things the way they are—cutting through denial—while still having belief it will get better.
Fortunately, few of us will experience the atrocities faced by prisoners-at-war. Therefore, by not dwelling in denial, we can start seeing opportunities in our adversity. What can we learn from the experience? How can this help us get to the next level?
The key then to managing adversity is resilience. Alan Simpson, the former Senator from Wyoming, once said this about a resilient man: “He’s a million rubber bands in his resilience.”
The blues artist, Tommy Castro, echoes a similar theme in his song Keep a Good Man Down: “Well it’s not how many times a man falls down, it’s how many times he picks himself up.”
Challenges are unavoidable. That’s why we need to cultivate resilience, so we can bounce back and find opportunities for growth. That’s ultimately what will define our success as a leader, parent, and friend.