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How do I deal with adversity?
"Why do we fall sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up."
Today’s post is quite relevant. I’m starting to write this on Thursday morning—a few days later than I normally would begin writing a Gridology post. Earlier in the week, I learned that the admin team at NYU Stern delayed the 1-year Tech MBA program that I was supposed to start in mid-May to January 2021. While delaying the program until January feels like the best case scenario for trying to administer the program completely in-person, there’s now a new challenge ahead of me: How do I productively spend the next eight months? Today’s post is me sharing the framework I’m using to overcome this new obstacle. I hope you enjoy.
Today, as mentioned, I’m talking about adversity. If you recognize the quote from the subhead, you’re clearly a Christopher Nolan fan (and I applaud you).
“Why do we fall sir? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up.” —Alfred Pennyworth
Nothing quite says “adversity” like Batman trying to save Gotham from utter despair. Alfred’s wisdom also helps to put things into perspective for us: Whatever challenge we are facing cannot ever be as bad as Bruce Wayne’s. This is the crux of today’s question:
How do you deal with adversity?
Alfred’s maxim hits home. He’s an optimist. He doesn’t dwell on why Bruce failed, how he got to where he is, or how hurt (physically or emotionally) he may be. He looks to reframe Bruce’s failure as an opportunity to thrive.
That’s certainly one way you can react to failure: with optimism. There’s another way, too. Pessimism. Things feel bad because things are bad. Bad luck is frustrating and it can feel like rolling a snowball down a hill—once it gets going, the bigger and bigger it gets. And there’s no stopping it.
All of this taken together—how your processed mind thinks about adversity—is today’s x-axis. When you’ve had the chance to internally digest the adversity ahead, are you filled with optimism or pessimism? An important caveat here is that this axis is your processed state of mind, not your initial reaction. I would be hard-pressed to find someone who receives challenging or bad news and immediately thinks to him or herself, “This is awesome! I’m ready to put in a ton of work to make this better.” No. First reactions are usually anger, defeat and frustration. That’s natural and normal. What I’m talking about here is how you feel about adversity once your mind has had time to move passed these negative instant reactions… once you’ve had your moment to metaphorically (or literally) scream inside a pillow.
The y-axis is the strength of your support network. Strength can come in all forms:
Quantity: Do you have a lot of people who you can engage to help during this difficult time?
Brawn: Are there a few “power players” who are extremely valuable to you overcoming this obstacle?
Met Expectations: Are the people who you’d expect to be the most supportive actually the most supportive?
Understanding the Grid
Our focus for this grid is to find ways to get into the Action-Oriented quadrant. Ideally, when a new challenge arises you can start yourself in this zone. If not, your first step in solving this obstacle is to shift your mindset and/or grow the strength of your support network. If you, mentally, feel down about the adverse experience you’re facing, it’s going to be near impossible for you to move past it. If you mentally feel optimistic, but have a small support network, it will still be tough for you to know the tactical steps needed to begin the process of moving on.
You’re optimistic and have a robust support network. No BS: if you have a serious challenge ahead of you, this is the quadrant you should work to be in. People in this quadrant don’t dawdle. They let their immediate anger and frustration last for only a few moments before digging in and doing the work. They reframe challenges into opportunities and new goals. They lean on those around them to support them. In my case, I’m doing all I can to be in this quadrant—reaching out to my network to see who may be hiring for interns or contractors and leaning on my family and friends when self-doubt starts to creep in.
You’re optimistic, but have a frail support network. People in this quadrant know how to immediately reframe problems to opportunities, yet struggle in realizing their goal due to their weaker support network. What’s valuable for these people is find champions who can set them on the correct course. When an obstacle appears, a mistake individuals in this quadrant make is believing that the obstacle is theirs alone to solve. Life is a team sport, and—while you may be optimistic about the road ahead—you’d be even better off to travel that road with people who can help. Even elite marathon runners have support during race day. They receive water, carbohydrates and encouragement until they cross the finish line. No one should run alone.
You’re pessimistic, but have a robust support network. With a strong support network, you have access to people who want and can help you thrive. However, your mindset is holding you back. You wallow in sorrow. You live the despair. You have difficulty shaking the moment to rise to the occasion. Your instant reactions of anger, frustration or displeasure carry forward, haunting you for days or even weeks beyond the initial event. Engaging with your network can not only help you overcome your challenge, but also help you change your mindset to become more optimistic. While you may be sad about the events that transpired, don’t let your sadness and apathy prevent you from reaching out for help. Everyone needs help when they are down. Find your own Alfred and don’t push him or her off to the side.
You’re pessimistic and have a frail support network. You don’t handle bad news well, and you don’t seek out others to help in times of need. Adversity feels like you carry the weight of the whole world on your shoulders. Problems feel unnecessarily daunting. You probably have, at least, a small support network, but you don’t tap into them. Asking people for help feels off-character and “not you.” Your problems fester. No progress gets made towards resolving or moving past them. Hope starts to fade. A bleak new reality starts to take form. You’re Bruce, with no Alfred in sight. Focusing first on tapping into your network is the best thing you can do. Those around you can help change your mindset to help you realize that whatever you are going through is an opportunity, not a personal apocalypse.
There is one big shortcoming with today’s grid:
This grid does a poor job understanding the nuances between different types of adversity. Losing your job, losing a loved one, and dealing with relationship problems are three very different types of challenges. Each can be difficult to move past and see it from the optimist’s point of view. However, the faster you can do it, the faster you can start working to improve how you feel and address the problem at hand. This is hard work.
How does this grid land with you? My hope is that while we are going through difficult and unnerving times, you can find ways to channel your inner-positivity and reach out to those in your network who can help. If we all can be action-oriented to help ourselves and help others, there’s little we can’t overcome.
Life’s only as confusing as you let it be,
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