Overcoming Adversity

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Adversity is not something most of us actively seek out. In most cases, we have absolutely no control over the nature or event troubling us and it is unbiased as to whether or not we are young or old, rich or poor, famous or not. But, overcoming adversity is something all of us have to do.

Adversity and overcoming it has been something on my mind for the past couple months. Indeed, sometimes it seems as if some people are dealt more than their fair share of crap that they "get" to overcome. But these same people simply amaze me at how well they have not only overcome, but risen above, the crappy hand they were dealt--and usually with a smile on their face. They are the true unsung heroes.

First case in point. I am not a follower of sports, and to me, watching basketball falls slightly above watching golf or watching grass grow. So when the radio announcer said, "Next up, an interview with Jay Williams, former basketball player, and his story about overcoming grave adversity," I reached up to turn the channel. But the word "adversity" prevented my fingers from punching the button to change the channel.

I am glad I did not change the channel. In fact, I am grateful that I was introduced to Mr. Williams. He got me to start thinking about the possibilities that come with adversity, for me personally, and many people far more worthy than I. Mr. Williams played basketball for Duke University and had signed on as point guard with the Chicago Bulls, playing only one season, when his basketball career came to a crashing end. I say a crashing end because he ended his career by crashing a motorcycle for which he had no license and even worse, no helmet, into a pole.

This near-fatal wreck left him unable to do most things for himself, including walk. Going from a career that required running up and down a court to a man who could not walk, was a fate almost worse than death. His tale of how he tried to get it all back, ten years of rehabilitation and attempted comebacks, and feelings that his life was more of a consolation prize, hurt my heart. Many years had passed between his injury and this interview, but I was struck by his positive attitude. He said he did not really look at his accident as ruining his NBA career, but how life can change in an instant. I was humbled when he said, reflecting on what he has now, is when he became grateful.

I started thinking about other people who have overcome great adversity. Still on sports, Magic Johnson, a 12-year basketball superstar, announced that he was HIV positive, which effectively ended his sports career. He went on to create a business empire that includes real estate, movie theaters, and Starbuck's franchises.

Martha Stewart is another. She went from a more than lucrative career as television personality and businesses woman to prison due to insider trading. Even from prison, Martha worked on rebranding herself. After serving her sentence, she used that rebranded image to catapult her career even higher.

The next case in point, is a friend of mine. He is paralyzed from the waist down but refuses to use a wheelchair. Using arm braces, he walks alongside us. He is so good looking and affable that you actually forget that he is handicapped. Once when I mentioned that to him, he laughed and said, "Get out of here!" He hardly sees himself as we view him. He works out, he is a public speaker, a comedian, and as you can guess, the list goes on and on.

I remember the day he publicly (on stage) shared his story of personal devastation, his struggle with depression and even thoughts of suicide. I also remember shaking my head and saying "What?" But as I thought about it, it dawned on me that he never spoke about his injuries. There was never a pity party. He was always "up". Listening to him tell his story devastated us. In fact, that is all we spoke about over dinner. But it also inspired us. In fact, after our daughter died, there were times when I replayed his story and his thoughts of suicide over and over in my mind. He had come through such a horrific event. He was a devastated young man, crippled, no longer able to pursue a career in athletics, the loss of his friend - who was in the wreck with him, his own feelings of guilt, who had overcome all to become an inspiration to us all. For me, it was his story of coming out the other side of regret, fear and sorrow that saved me many times from ending my own life. He may never read this, but thank you!

Reading articles about the above-mentioned individuals, I noticed each of them used problem-solving techniques. While I like to be creative in the process, I do follow a logic-bound process.

Problem Solving Techniques

No problems. I learned years ago to reframe how I though of problems from the onset. The answer was easy. There are no problems only challenges. Eliminate the word problem from your vocabulary.

Ask the question. At the top of my list for challenge solving is to ask questions. Do all you can to learn about and understand the challenge you are faced with.

Break it down. Once you have asked the questions, break the answers down into logical manageable pieces. Then attack one piece at a time until you reach the end. Each piece might take multiple tries to figure out and to resolve, but it is easier to see what is currently in front of you if they broken into manageable pieces. If you do not break it down you are more likely to be overwhelmed.

Be logical. Breaking the challenge down requires you to be logical. But do not just assume because you have done this task that you can jump to a conclusion. Doing so may just require you to reprocess that step when you realize that your assumption to the conclusion made an ass out of you and me. Be logical but also open minded.

Be open minded. Be willing to change your perspective and look at the challenge from different perspectives.

Define the challenge. Is the challenge you are facing right now the cause of the challenge or a symptom? Or rather, is it the root of the challenge or a side affect?

Use tried and true methods. If the challenge is similar to something that has occurred in the past and you effectively resolved it, try applying the same solution.

Be open to change. If you tried a solution that worked previously but failed now, do not be demotivated by fear. Remain flexible and review the challenge from another angle. Try another approach.

Don’t give up. Finding the solutions to challenges can be overwhelming. Take breaks and use that time to recharge your mind and body. Remove fear of failure and fear of change from your challenge-making process. Ask other people for help. We often forget to ask our mentors and our friends who are always available to us, how they would handle a particular challenge. Often, their insight may provide a whole other line of reasoning to consider.

Often, circumstances and timing are not in-sync with our every day life. Initially, adversity may be overwhelming and seem insurmountable. But somewhere along the line, with time, challenge-solving techniques, and the help of people who love us, a shift in our psyche takes place. This shift is what allows us to accept the changes and reinvent ourselves within it. There is no set timing for the course and no right and wrong answers. It is literally by trial and error, and reinvention, that we finally find success!

Ursula Neal

Ursula is a grief coach for mothers who have lost children helping them to move from crappy to happy again. She is also a personal growth strategist helping individuals reach their goals. She may be reached at 602-400-4423 or ursula@CompassReset.com. Facebook Google+

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