“Sickness and sorrow come to us all,
But through it we grow and learn to stand tall--
For trouble is part and parcel of life,
And no man can grow without struggle and strife,
And the more we endure with patience and grace
The stronger we grow and the more we can face.
And the more we can face, the greater our love,
And with love in our hearts we are more conscious of
The pain and the sorrow in lives everywhere,
So it is through trouble that we learn how to share.”
- Helen Steiner Rice
There’s an expression that the best way to make God laugh is to make plans. Often times life has a way of working out and unfolding that isn’t exactly what we expected or imagined to be the “best” path. Sometimes life throws us curve balls that catch us by surprise and force us to learn lessons and grow in unexpected ways. Sometimes what seems like the worst thing that could happen to us at the time turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Sometimes we need to experience adversity and setbacks to grow and move forward as a human being.
No one wants or wishes for and dreams of adversity and challenges, yet the only way to really grow and become stronger is to face challenges and overcome them. I certainly wouldn’t wish for or hope for my friends and loved ones to go through hardships, yet many of the happiest and strongest people I know are that way as a direct result of facing and overcoming obstacles and difficulties.
A recent report, “Whatever Does Not Kill Us: Cumulative Lifetime Adversity, Vulnerability, and Resilience” in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, has confirmed that when bad experiences happen we do suffer from mental and emotional pain – but that through suffering many of us develop a greater understanding and appreciation of hardship that ultimately make us stronger and more resilient people. In other words, Nietzsche was right, what doesn’t kill us does make us stronger, at least to a point.
How Adversity Has Made Me Stronger
I don’t consider myself special or unique in terms of the adversity and challenges I’ve faced. At times when I was going through certain difficult situations I certainly felt unique. But over time, with age and maturity, I’ve grown to realize that most people go through difficulties and hard times in life. Some of us seem to live more charmed lives than others no doubt, but if you look closely and get to know people intimately enough, most of us face very similar difficulties in life.
I’ve been through several of what I considered at the time to be big life challenges. When I went through them they seemed difficult and painful, but over time as I learned how to cope and process the experiences they ultimately made me a better and stronger person. Sometimes when you’re going through situations it’s hard to see the forest from the trees. When you’re right in the thick of challenges, you lack the perspective to even imagine how certain situations could possibly be beneficial for you. Here are a few things I’ve experienced that I ultimately learned from and feel like have made me a better person.
I’ll start with the most cliché, yet no less painful, difficult experience, the breakup. Most people go through at least one painful break up in their lives. Some people go through many. A very small percentage of people seem to never experience the loss of a romantic partner, until perhaps the death of a spouse or significant other. But I think it’s fair to say the vast majority of people experience the painful loss of a romantic relationship at some point in their lives.
When I was 32 I initiated the break up of a five year long relationship I had with my then girlfriend. Even though I initiated the break up and felt strongly at the time it was the right decision, it was no less painful or easy to go through. I don’t care how zen or centered of a person you are, if you experience the loss of a very intimate romantic relationship it hurts emotionally unlike anything else I can imagine. Perhaps only the death of a parent or family member comes close to this sort of loss. Breaking up is hard to do as they say, even for the person initiating the breakup in many cases.
Although this experience was very painful at the time I grew a lot from the experience. Some of the lessons I learned took a few years to fully process, but ultimately the experience made me a wiser, more thoughtful and more compassionate person. In a strange way, losing my girlfriend and choosing to end the relationship ultimately made me appreciate the time we did spend together even more. I’ve learned since then how to focus on the positive aspects of relationships. I’ve learned how to be a better person in relation to other people. In some ways I look back and regret the decision I made back then, but yet it’s clear that I’ve learned lessons that I could have only learned by going through the experience I went through. I could only get here, to the point I am now, by having made the decision I made. I couldn’t get here from there, and here is a really good place.
Anyone who has lost their job unexpectedly can attest to how stressful of an experience this can be. I’ve experienced this fate, for different reasons, on several occasions. Some of the experiences happened when I was much younger and in College with much less at stake. But I experienced a job loss when I was in my late twenties that was sudden and unexpected. Most people describe losing a job as one of the most stressful things you can go through in life. I didn’t have a family at the time, and I still don’t, so it wasn’t the most stressful thing I’ve experienced, but it was nonetheless a very stressful situation that took considerable time to fully recover from.
However, this experience of losing a job that I had invested a lot of time into and the subsequent stress it created ultimately motivated me to create my own business and push my licensing career forward. Although working for myself has created an entirely new set of stressors and challenges, I’m so glad that I experienced the things I did that led me to becoming self-employed. It turns out I’m much better at being my own boss than I am at being an employee. I couldn't imagine going back to the role of an employee yet I had to go through the difficult of process of losing a job and experiencing the stress that brought on to tap into the level of motivation required to venture out on my own.
Lack Of Enormous Success (ie, I’m still not a rock star)
This one is perhaps less traumatic than a painful break up or job loss, but not having achieved the success I originally sought out to achieve as a musician has been difficult at times. When you imagine your life unfolding one way and then it unfolds another, it can be difficult and confusing. I had certain dreams and expectations starting out in the music business that I hoped would come true. I of course had no way of knowing with any certainty how far I would go in the music business. I certainly couldn’t foresee all of the changes in the music industry that have happened and had no way of knowing just how difficult “making it” in the music business would become when I set out as a teenager.
On one hand, of course I would like to be more successful. Who wouldn’t wish more success for themselves? Yet, on the other hand I’m really grateful for the things I have achieved and feel as excited as ever to be a musician. In a way, not having the massive success I hoped for when I was younger, has made me more grateful for the success I have experienced and a more humble person overall. The world doesn’t owe any of us success, myself included, and I humbly wake up every day eager to learn, grow and move forward with perhaps a more clear sense of what it takes to be successful than ever before and a much more refined idea of what true success looks like for me. A very few people get extraordinarily lucky in life, the rest of us have to work our asses off very every scrap of success we achieve. I’m proud to belong to the latter category and consider myself a stronger person and a better musician as a result of the setbacks and frustrations I've worked through over the years. And who knows, maybe my "lucky break" is right around the corner.
These day I certainly don’t seek out adversity, but when things don’t go as I wished or planned, I look for the lesson and way forward and usually come out ahead in the end. I’ve learned from my setbacks and I’ve become a more resilient, confident person and a better musician.
What about you? How have you dealt with adversity and difficult situations? Do you feel like you’re stronger as a result of hardships you’ve endured in life? Do you embrace adversity when you experience it and find the lessons inherent in difficult situations? Please share your experiences below.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.