Adversity Sparks the Best in Us

Posted by Ann Deaton Share Your Voice


None of us looks forward to negative and traumatic events in our lives, yet these events come our way heedless of the welcome we fail to offer. Adversity brings gifts into our lives and leadership. And it's easier to recognize those gifts afterwards than in the midst of trauma and crisis.


As a leadership coach, I am privileged to hear about the adversity in the lives of my clients and their organizations. As a human being, I also get to experience my own diverse challenges ranging from the mild fender benders to the unanticipated life-altering events. This past few months has found me at the life-changing end of the continuum, NOT a comfortable or joyful place to be. And in between my tears and fears, I've had moments where I could reflect and notice some of the gifts of adversity. There are three in particular I'd like to share:


1.     I am Awake. Adversity wakes you up. We all have routines and habits that make us efficient and can sometimes be limiting. Habitual ways of being can cause us to be unaware and to sleepwalk through life. When something goes dramatically wrong, our routines are disrupted and our habits inadequate or unavailable. In adversity, we wake up to the life we have. While that can be painful, being awake offers the opportunity to see the beauty of our lives.


“It’s a hard thing to explain to somebody who hasn’t felt it, but the presence of death and danger has a way of bringing you fully awake. It makes things vivid. When you’re afraid, really afraid, you see things you never saw before, you pay attention to the world. You make close friends. You become part of a tribe and you share the same blood—you give it together, you take it together.”

Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

2.     I am Courageous and Committed. When bad things happen, we often get in touch with what we care deeply about, and we have an opportunity to tap in to our courage to honor those deep values. Warren Bennis & Robert Thomas call these opportunities “crucibles of leadership.”

“…one of the most reliable indicators and predictors of true leadership is an individual’s ability to find meaning in negative events and to learn from even the most trying circumstances. Put another way, the skills required to conquer adversity and emerge stronger and more committed than ever are the same ones that make for extraordinary leaders.”  (Bennis & Thomas)


3.     I am Agile. Change is life, and life requires new choices and new moves every day. One of the hardest things for me in the midst of recent losses has been that I have not been able to do what I’ve always done, to honor my core values. Family, Excellence, and Joy are all important to me. Yet, Excellence in my work had to come second to Family during recent days of family illness and death. And Joy was often nowhere to be found. It’s “easy” to see the necessity of the focus on Family, and agility enabled me to also experience Joy and find a path to Excellence. I was able to quickly communicate to clients who are geographically far away and don’t even know my family; I also found myself asking for help, apologizing, and renegotiating promises. Those are not skills I always access very often, and it’s good to know I can still use them when needed.


“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo- far more flexible than you'd ever believe at first glance.” 
― Jodi PicoultMy Sister's Keeper

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Small Ann Deaton I am a leadership coach, and Managing Partner in Bounce. I love to coach and facilitate with individuals and systems experiencing significant change and growth. The clients I work with, regardless of their age or position, are talented and creative individuals willing to look with fresh eyes at their challenges and opportunities, and to take action based on their discoveries. As a result, they find that they are capable of accomplishing far greater things than they ever imagined. What do you want to accomplish today? Who do you want to be?


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