One of the qualities encapsulated in First Amendment Voice’s Ed Lowry Memorial Award for Citizenship is a person’s ability to overcome setbacks and strive on in the face of adversity. Many of us are no strangers to adversity, especially after one of the most challenging years in recent public memory.
Rather than dwelling on the negative events that happened in 2020 and continued into 2021, we’d like to take this as an opportunity to meaningfully reflect on what adversity is and what we can do to change the ways in which we view and overcome adversity.
What is Adversity?
Adversity is generally described as serious and/or ongoing difficulties and misfortune. It can involve anything from physical, mental or emotional struggles of an individual to the social, legal or economic setbacks experienced by a wider group. Most people face some kind of adversity at many points in their lives, but the extent of the problem and the individual or group’s capacity to remain resilient in the face of adversity varies widely.
Pause for a moment to reflect on how adversity has appeared in your own life over the past year. What challenges have you faced, and how did you successfully overcome them? Which personality traits do you credit for your ability and willingness to strive onward in spite of the obstacles in your way? And if some of these adverse circumstances are still ongoing, what can you do today to resolve them?
Of course, not all types of adversity are resolvable through sheer determination by an individual. While the U.S. has long-embraced the cultural value of personal responsibility and ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,’ it’s important to remember that adversity is often caused by factors outside of our control (such as the pandemic and all the related consequences it has brought with it).
With this in mind, we should renew our focus on being empathetic towards others because we never know what someone might be going through behind the scenes. We can’t control others’ responses to conflict and adversity, but we can compassionately support them and find commonalities in our unique, yet similar struggles.
Reframing Adversity as Opportunity
As former First Lady Michelle Obama said in a college commencement speech in 2016: “You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.”
As we discuss in-depth in our FAV-exclusive white paper, some of the best strategies for adjusting our expectations to upsetting or challenging situations involve self-distancing and cognitive reframing. In a nutshell, these techniques involve consciously viewing adverse situations as opportunities for growth and actively identifying which factors are within our control to drive positive changes in our lives.
For example, someone who is laid off could reframe job loss as an opportunity to find more meaningful employment elsewhere, perhaps with a more agreeable boss, better benefits, and greater job satisfaction. We’re not suggesting that you should only look at the bright side when confronted with adversity; it’s a natural human response to feel anxious, disappointed or angry when presented with a seemingly impossible obstacle to overcome. However, you also can’t let yourself get too caught up in the negativity if you genuinely hope to overcome adversity, so reframing how you think about a problem – as an opportunity rather than a disadvantage – is essential for overcoming setbacks in any area of your life.