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Lessons From Adversity

I recently listened to great podcast where Brad Lomenick from Catalyst interviewed Malcolm Gladwell. Lomenick asked Gladwell if he would add any new observations on success to those he captured in his fantastic book Outliers. Gladwell said that  upon reflection, he wished he’d given more time  and attention to the role adversity plays in shaping successful people. He’d observed that many successful people have often encountered significant struggles in their lives, some for many years. Noting that society often  values advantages in a person’s life, he pondered how disadvantage could actually help a person.  If given the right tools...would a child at school with a huge class of other children, be better prepared for the competitiveness of life and work than a child in the school with the small intimate class sizes, for example…

What are the lessons we can learn through adversity? It might be the struggle of unemployment, a house foreclosure, a broken heart, a failure. It might be through relationships stained by betrayal, or competition. The searing indignity of injustice.  How can these experiences shape us for the good, even make a contribution to our success in life?

I don’t mean that we somehow play a mind game that bad things that happen are good; denial doesn’t help anyone, and delivers stinging payback when it finally breaks down. Nor do I mean a passive “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” view; after all what doesn’t kill might maim you,  paralyze you, torment you  and cast a shadow over your life for years to come.

No I mean if given the right tools, what would become of our lives? What would be adversity’s legacy in our lives –  bitterness out of  defeat or beauty out of ashes?

I can’t get away from the picture  of  the school child in the huge class . The automatic thought is that the class size is too big and so will limit a child’s potential and success. But with the right tools,  perhaps the child is not defined by her environment after all?

Adversity comes to us all, and  naturally we’ d like it to move on as quickly as possible, because surely that’s a sign that life is better. But if we had tools, perhaps under God’s grace we forge a better life. Perhaps the struggles sow seeds that in time produce greater fruitfulness in our lives.

What lessons have you learned in adversity?

What the tools do you use to work your way through?

What seeds have been sown in your life in times of adversity?





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