Adversity is an Opportunity for Greatness
Every adversity, challenge, trial, obstacle, or problem is an opportunity for greatness. By “greatness” I mean, whatever it is that gets you closer to goodness or excellence.
For me, a Catholic, trials are opportunities to live a more holy life and to become a saint. To an entrepreneur, a problem could be an opportunity to introduce a product or service that could change the world. For an athlete, an obstacle could be an opportunity to grow in their physical abilities and win an Olympic medal. A soldier’s adversity could lead them to commit an act of bravery which earns them the Medal of Honor and saves lives.
“You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.” -Walt Disney
In 2009 I was a real estate lawyer at a prestigious law firm in South Florida. Being a real estate lawyer made total logical sense when I graduated from law school. The real estate market was very strong and everyone believed that the bull market would never end.
However, all markets, especially real estate, took a dive in 2008. My employer lost clients and work got scarce pretty quickly. I was an associate lawyer, so I relied on others to delegate work to me to stay busy, but everyone went into survival mode and hoarded as much work for themselves as they could. My billable hours dropped significantly and after several months I was eventually laid off.
Being laid off was the ultimate kick in the teeth for me. I went from a six figure salary, good benefits, and generous bonuses, to unemployed instantly. I was a law review student who graduated with honors, earned board certification, and had lots of experience under my belt. But it didn’t matter. My identity and self-worth were wrapped up in my job — an incorrect way of thinking, I would later learn — so my ego was bruised as well.
I was worried about how I would support my family and I briefly went into “why me?” mode. It is natural for us to think “why me?” when something like that happens, but Stephen R. Covey was correct when he said that 90% of life is decided by how we react. “Why me?” wore off mostly and I started up my solo law practice a few days later.
It is how we react to a kick in the teeth that makes all of the difference.
“In green pastures he makes me lie down; to still waters he leads me; he restores my soul.” Psalms 23:2–3
I still remember the strange feeling I had the day after I was laid off when I woke up in the morning and had nowhere to go. I went downstairs and ate breakfast in my gym shorts and t-shirt as my wife and kids were getting ready to go to work and school. I felt so out of place not having anywhere to go, not being in my office, not wearing a suit and tie, and not working on important lawyer stuff. When everyone had left home to start their day, it was very quiet. I had a lot of time to be alone with my thoughts.
Losing my job forced my life to slow down, which I did not realize I even needed. But I did. I had a lot of extra time since I was not rushing off to the office in the morning and commuting an hour or so every day back and forth to work. I was working from home and each day after my wife and children left the house to go out into the world I was again left alone to ponder my thoughts. Who am I? What am I doing? Where am I going?
I started spending a lot of time reading the Bible and other books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I also started running. I absolutely hated running and I was never good at it, but I did it anyway. I ran almost every morning, and even sometimes in the sweltering Florida afternoon heat. Within a few months I had lost twenty pounds and I was as healthy as ever.
I also spent a lot of time in meditation and prayer. I was away from my Catholic faith for some time before, but I was drawn back to the Church during this time and I became part of an amazing community at my parish. I experienced a spiritual renewal after I attended a church retreat. It changed my life.
If I hadn’t been kicked in the teeth, I never would have begun running. I didn’t have the time to. And I would have never attended a church retreat either because I would have thought I didn’t need it.
“Sometimes adversity is what you need to face to become successful.” -Zig Ziglar
The definition of “success” is different for everyone. Though, unfortunately, most people measure success only by how much money they make. I cannot tell you that I have made a boatload of money since 2009. I have not. But my family and I live a very nice lifestyle. We go on cruises, stay at resorts when we vacation, drive nice cars, wear nice clothes, eat good food, and have money to spend on entertainment and luxuries, though we do not live luxuriously.
More importantly than all of the material niceties we are blessed with, though, I have experienced significant growth in almost every area of my life since 2009 and I am achieving what I would consider “success.”
He is like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in season; its leaves never wither; whatever he does prospers. Psalms 1:3
Here are some areas of my life that have produced new fruit out of adversity:
- My relationships with my wife and children got better because I am more available and focused on them and their needs instead of myself;
- I started new friendships and became part of a good community because I spent time developing relationships and serving others;
- I grew spiritually because I spent time learning my faith and talking to God every day;
- My knowledge and wisdom increased because I read more books and listened to more podcasts than ever (and stopped continuously watching the news and following politics);
- My physical health improved greatly because I spent time working on my body by running, going to the gym, even training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (until I injured my knee), and eating better food.
“We develop our character muscles by overcoming challenges and adversity” -Stephen R. Covey
So, you see, my story progressed as follows:
- Kicked in the teeth
- Made to lie down in green pastures
- Began building success
- Began bearing fruit
- Developed character
Being laid off from a job in a terrible real estate market was one of the hardest adversities I have ever faced. It was surely a “kick in the teeth.” If you had asked me whether I wanted to be kicked in the teeth just before it happened, I would have said “Absolutely not!”
However, that initial event started me on a journey that may have otherwise never occurred. I am scared to think how things could have been. Divorce? Heart attack? Spiritual and personal stagnation? My journey has lead me here. Writing to you. Following my dream. Doing the work that I want to do. And having developed character and discovered what it means to live a virtuous life.
So the next time you get kicked in the teeth remember that it is all about how you react. Make the choice to accept what happened and use it as an opportunity to propel you to greatness in your life.