Forged in Fire: How Adversity Can Help You Win

When I was just little Johnny Addison growing up in rural Covington, Georgia, I thought that adults knew just about everything. They had all the answers my budding mind was thirsty for, and I hung on their every word; at least, I tried to.

That said, it’s hard to take the advice of those older than you, isn’t it? When you’re young and impetuous, you just want to experience it all. You want to taste the hot and the cold and experience the ups and the downs. Good or bad, you want to learn for yourself. It’s then that you realize: With the good always comes the bad; in fact, sometimes the good even comes from the bad.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about leadership, it’s that great leaders are often born of tremendous adversity. Difficult situations challenge us to grow, change, face ourselves, and become better people. It’s not fun, but it is life. You either evolve and flourish, or you devolve and…well, whatever the opposite of flourishing is.

I like to say, “You’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting,” because I think it’s true. In this blog, I want to look at how you can find opportunities to stay green and growing, even when things appear rotten at first glance.

Your Greatness Comes from Adversity

In my upcoming book, Turn Your Fear into Fuel, I mention Thomas Carlyle’s quote, “Adversity is the diamond dust Heaven polishes its jewels with.” I believe this to be true, perhaps more than any other quote in use today.

Great leaders know what they don’t want just as much as they know what they do want. They have experienced enough of the bad and the good to know that those two words are not only subjective but also a matter of perspective.

I’m willing to bet there’s at least one instance in your life when you turned a loss into a win or a dead end into a chance to explore a new avenue. I’m also willing to bet that the line between those two opposites was as fine as frog hair, and it likely depended on how you looked at the situation.

Think about it like this: If my beloved Georgia Bulldogs were ever to lose a game (may the good Lord forbid it), and they held that loss as fire in their belly, inspiring them to come back better in the next game and whip the crap out of the opposing team, isn’t that ultimately a win?

Success in overcoming adversity is the power to turn what might seem like a disadvantage into an advantage; finding opportunity when it seems like there is none. When you learn to do this, it just might seem like the whole universe is conspiring with you rather than against you.

How to Keep a Growth Mindset When Those Around You Are Losing Theirs

I talk a lot about being the lighthouse instead of the weathervane. As a leader, you must find a way to stay focused as a positive guide for all those you serve. If you shift direction with every storm that comes your way, people will never know you as someone they can trust.

There’s only one thing you have to remember when it comes to being successful in maintaining your leadership during difficult times:

EVERYTHING you experience is fodder for your growth. 

This is how you cultivate a growth mindset. You just hold fast to the understanding that every single thing that comes your way is meant to shape you for the better. Now, how you let it shape you—up, down, sideways, or willy-nilly—that part is up to you.

If everything I experience is meant to shape me in some way, it makes sense to let it grow me. Every situation you come across can grow you. Most people don’t realize that.

Most think we must grow or shrink depending on the severity and reality of the circumstances, but that’s just plain false. Every bump in the road (along with every peak you reach, for that matter) can shape you for the better.

You just have to be the one who remembers one rule: that you are always growing—in some direction—and you will be the one who embodies that lighthouse metaphor all your days.

New strategy for finding the positive

Some people seem to be born with a positive outlook. Come rain or shine, they are always smiling. If they irritate you, it’s only because you’re jealous.

I said what I said.

While the sun arguably shined more on some people on the day positive personalities were handed out, this is a trait that can be practiced and honed. It doesn’t mean you’ll never experience negative thoughts or great doubt. It just means that you have to use perspective to hold the negative thinking and doubt in a positive way.

Exercise: Take one significant struggle in your life and explain it in one or two sentences. Under it, write two reasons why it could be a positive for you.

My example: My Cardigan Welsh Corgi, Winston, likes to run off when he feels a single raindrop.

Possible benefits: 

  1. I get more exercise when I have to catch him.
  2. I have an opportunity to remember what it was like chasing a toddler around when my boys were younger. I can reminisce, and I feel just a few years younger than I really am.

This kind of simple recontextualization might not change the feelings you have right away, but the more you practice seeing the lemonade in those lemons, the more you will feel that life is a gift.

Making Lemonade

While I can say that greatness and leadership often emerge from adversity, I know it can be hard to recollect in the midst of a big challenge. But if you are committed, with some practice, you’ll see your own level of leadership rise—I promise you.

Just remember that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are usually subjective and depend on your perspective. To overcome adversity and be stronger for having done so, you must find opportunities and advantages in what may initially seem like disadvantages. This is how you’ll stay strong and remain a beacon for those who look to you in adverse situations.

Cultivating and maintaining a growth mindset during challenging times isn’t easy, but it needs to happen—remember, this is how we ripen!  When you’re struggling (and you probably will, because that’s something all of us humans do from time to time), practice positive thinking by looking at difficult situations to see the potential benefits they can bring. By consistently practicing this mindset, you can cultivate a positive outlook and view life as the great gift that it is.

To learn more about turning adversity into an advantage, check out my latest book, Turn Your Fear Into Fuel.

I’ll see you at the top!



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“The scarcest resource in the world is not oil, it’s leadership.”

As Co-CEO of the largest independent financal services company in North America, John Addison’s skill as a leader was tested and honed daily. He retired in 2015 after taking the company and it’s people to massive heights. He’s just not done helping people get to the top. Today, he’s at the helm of Addison Leadership Group, INC working daily to mentor and educate new leaders.