I hated my first job. I had always thought of myself as mentally tough, but I was unprepared for the adversity I faced while looking for a new career in a weak economy.
After getting my bachelor’s degree, my first job out of college was working as a department manager in a large retail chain in Phoenix. I foolishly thought because I liked clothes that I would like working in the industry. I didn’t mind the hard work through the holidays, ridiculous work schedule, or poor pay. I did resent the ruthlessness with which management treated their people as disposable assets.
While I had not yet uncovered my life’s purpose, I knew it would be more significant than persuading women to buy striped blouses this year instead of polka dotted ones. It was the 1980’s, a decade known for poor fashion choices and hideous hair. I needed out, so I began to look for another career.
The economy was in a serious downturn. Changing jobs was difficult enough, but breaking into a new career proved to be full of challenges and adversity. Doors not only closed for me—they slammed shut. I was rejected for one job after another.
During this period of my life I became very angry with God, and out of this anger came a strong mind determined to forge ahead and do something bigger, and better, with my life than God evidently had planned for me. So I kept at it. I felt my knuckles were bloodied from all the doors that I’d tried to beat down in an effort to move forward with my life.
Several months passed. I eventually went back to graduate school while still working full-time. I learned that the FBI was coming onto campus to interview and I thought, “Why not?” That one small step changed the course of my life.
I took the written test. I had become so inured to rejection that when I got a letter from FBI Headquarters confirming I’d come in at #12 out of a pool of #24,000 applicants, I assumed I’d ranked at the bottom. I screamed at God out loud in my apartment—so angry that one more door had slammed shut. When I called my local FBI office back, they told me I’d ranked #12 from the top of the applicant pool!
It wasn’t until I was in the FBI Academy that I realized the adversity I had experienced in reaching this goal would be preparation for the future. My goal of becoming an FBI agent would be difficult—full of adversity, but it would also be worth it.
New research suggests that resilience to adversity in our life may be linked to how often we face it. So, the number of blows a person has taken may affect their mental toughness more than any other factor.
The study showed that the frequency of adversities faced by an individual in the past assists them in developing resilience to adversities in the future. In essence, past experiences provide a way of predicting how a person will behave when faced with adversity in the future.
Some of the participants in the study had lived a charmed life and had faced little or no adversity in their life. The researchers found that they were not the ones most satisfied with their lives. Their sense of wellbeing was about the same as those who had suffered several memorable blows in life. The participants who scored the highest in wellbeing were those reporting two to six stressful events. Those who had experienced more than a dozen stressful events found it difficult to cope.
In short, the findings suggest that a strong mind is something like physical strength: it cannot develop without exercise and it breaks down when overworked (click to tweet).
Living through adversity gives you the confidence that you can come out the other end of almost anything. Here are 6 things I’m glad I learned about developing resilience and overcoming adversity:
- Confront the negative. You can learn a great deal from your mistakes and failures if you aren’t too busy denying them. If you are continuing to ask the same questions of yourself for months or years, and still find yourself stuck in the same place, it’s not that you don’t know the answers—it more likely that you don’t like the answers. It takes courage to admit things need to change, and a lot more courage to accept responsibility for actually changing them. The most difficult step moving forward is usually the first step. Once you build momentum, you will find yourself in a spiral of positive changes, each one building on the other.
- Make changes, not excuses. Listen to your inner voice and not the competing opinions of everyone else. This is your life and yours alone. Let your dreams be bigger than your fears (click to tweet). Live by choice, not by chance.
- Face adversity, don’t avoid it. The study cited above reflects how easy it is for you to take your good luck for granted. If you are not prepared for adversity when it comes, you have no tools with which to fight back. Not getting what you always want forces you to identify your core character strengths and personal values, information you might have otherwise over looked. Some things fall apart in life so that better things can fall together.
- Expect the deepest pain to empower you to your full potential. It’s not a pleasant thought, but very often it is the stressful choices that end up being the most worthwhile. Without pain, there would be no change. Just remember to learn from your pain and then release it.
- Work outside your comfort zone. Don’t be reluctant to accept a new responsibility or challenge because you don’t think you’re ready. It’s OK to acknowledge that you need additional information, skill, or experience but remember that no one is 100% ready when an opportunity arises. Most opportunities in life force us to grow, both emotionally and intellectually. They force us out of our comfort zone, and so it’s natural to not feel comfortable at first. Significant opportunities for personal growth and success will come and go through your lifetime. If you’re looking to build resilience and overcome adversity, you will need to embrace moments of uncertainty even though you don’t feel 100% ready for them.
- Embrace the lesson. Everything happens for a reason. Things go wrong so you can learn to appreciate things when they go right. Learn to embrace the lesson each opportunity has to teach you so you can recognize the circumstances surrounding those lessons the next time they show up.
God was not being difficult. Instead, God was teaching me one of life’s hard lessons: Building a strong mind to overcome adversity is like building strong muscles. It weakens when not practiced enough. I could fine-tune my skills by embracing adversity rather than finding ways to avoid it.
How have you developed a strong mind? What have you done to develop resilience? How has adversity shaped you into a better person today? What tips do you have to offer someone who is experiencing adversity?
Read my book ““Secrets of a Strong Mind,” available now on Amazon.
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