Reframing Adversity

by | Mar 7, 2021 | Insights

“Adversity introduces men or women to themselves.” Albert Einstein

Among the many lessons from the global pandemic of the last 12 months is the inescapable value of learning about ourselves. In particular, the opportunity to find an inner strength that will sustain us through the dark times and drive us forward when the storm has passed. This lesson is not only an opportunity but, crucially, a necessity: life inevitably presents us with challenges, and when it does we need to find a way to both survive, and thrive.

My name is Peter Ridley, a coach and Kourdi Associate, and I would like to share with you several formative experiences from my life, and what I’ve learnt about adversity along the way.

Life was ticking over nicely until the age of 7, when a bicycle crash changed everything. This single event derailed the anticipated course of my life, and resulted in physical and emotional scars that would take 15 years to heal.

Yet it proved invaluable.

It proved invaluable because it presented me with an opportunity to carve my own path in life, and not simply follow the one I had expected to take. It took a long time to fully recover from this experience (21 years in all), however I can now say with complete conviction that I am infinitely happier today, exactly as things are, than I ever could have been had I never crashed my bike.

Be intentional, and understand that you have a choice to make

Finding my own path was a conscious choice. It did not happen automatically, and it was hard won. It was the result of continually taking steps forward (even tiny ones), and choosing to evolve into an ever-better version of me. It’s analogous to compound interest: in isolation, each incremental change may seem small, but with continued investment, over many years, the effect can be transformational.

I am 32 now and have spent countless hours over these last 25 years reflecting on my life, on my experiences, and on what constitutes true happiness, for me. Throughout this time I have also endeavoured to embrace adversity; to extract value from it, and to become stronger because of it.

Below are three of the lessons I’ve learnt. Naturally these are my own thoughts and may not apply to everyone; they are however essential elements of what makes me happy, and I am pleased to share them with you here.

It Starts Within

The importance of this point cannot be overstated.

There is an enormous amount of ‘noise’ in many societies today; strong forces pulling us in countless different directions – family, friends, colleagues, peers, celebrities, advertisements, magazines, television, radio, social media… the list goes on. In this whirlwind of activity, it’s extremely easy (and almost natural) for people to focus not on who they are, or, equally importantly, who they want to be, but to simply try and keep up. In my view, this is a recipe for discontent.

I therefore feel that it’s of paramount importance to create the time to actively and earnestly better the relationship with ourselves; to continually deepen our understanding, love and respect for ourselves, and to truly connect with who we are. The years of recovery after my bike crash enabled me to do just that, and my life has been transformed because of it.

Several years ago I was inspired by an article written by Bronnie Ware – a hospice nurse who cared for people at the very end of their lives. The piece was titled ‘Regrets of the Dying’, and it comprised the five most common regrets of dying people. The most common regret was this:

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

In my view, we can only do this if we truly know who we are.

Find Clarity

Viktor Frankl’s book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ is the second most influential book I’ve so far read (read on for the first!). In the book, Frankl quotes Friedrich Nietzsche, saying “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

These words struck a chord with me, and catalysed my long-held obsession with meaning; filtering out the frivolous, and focussing on what truly matters, to me. This focus resulted in a list: a selection of 27 specific things that are truly important, to me.

Over these last 10 years, I have achieved 26 of these aspirations. I was due to realise #27 (a travel experience) last year, however COVID-19 put paid to that! However, my commitment to its accomplishment is total, and it’ll simply mean all the more when it’s finally complete.

This list – these experiences, milestones and memories – would never have existed had it not been for adversity. The profound gratitude I feel, for innumerable things, would simply not be felt without the context that adversity provided. And the fire within, that inspires me to live life true to myself, would never have been ignited.

I am who I am today, thanks to adversity.

Be Proactive

I have been fortunate to learn from some incredible teachers, and no author has had a greater impact on my thinking than Stephen R. Covey. His book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ had a profound effect on me, and it’s fair to say that I rather took his first habit – be proactive – to heart: it’s the word I feel most accurately defines me today.

In my life to date, proactivity has been something of a panacea. Whenever I wanted something to be different, to be better, I told myself the same thing: whether it was personal or professional, the solution was always the same.

These three lessons – It Starts Within, Find Clarity, and Be Proactive – are of course connected, and I would like to leave you with a thought, and an invitation.

For many people around the world, the last year has been one of difficulty. One of adversity. It is however a whole year that has passed – one we’ll never get back. Every one of us now has a little less time to achieve everything we dare dream of in our lives.

So my question is this:

2021 is well underway now, but there’s still plenty of time left – what do you want to do with it…?

Peter Ridley is an executive coach and Kourdi Associate. Find out more about 1:1 Coaching and Peter Ridley

For more information, contact Kourdi Associates

Kourdi Associates​ ​work with current and potential leaders to develop their mindset, skills and effectiveness. Jeremy Kourdi is formerly Senior Vice President with The Economist, he has worked with London Business School and Duke Corporate Education as well as market-leading businesses worldwide, and he is the author of 27 books translated into 17 languages, including​ ​The Truth About Talent​ ​and​ ​Coaching Essentials​. ​His business​ ​Kourdi Associates​ ​provides coaches, expert content and consultants that help leaders successfully navigate a changing world.

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