Monday Musings... Embrace Adversity

It’s a brand-new year and I’m starting off talking about trouble.

Many people, when they flip the calendar page to January, take a deep breath and hope for health and happiness. “This will be the year of positive change!” they proclaim. And it very well might be.

While there is no guarantee that health and happiness will be in your future, there is one thing that is certain – in this year, and most definitely in this decade, there will be trials. There will be challenges, setbacks, and the occasional face-plant.

I’m not a pessimist or even a realist. I’m an opportunist, who knows that out of the toughest times, there can be positive growth. My students showed me this last semester.

I always look forward with anticipation each term to meet the 150-200 strangers that have been assigned to me. And for sure, I’m going in with the same mindset this week. But there was something different about Fall 2019, and as the semester drew to a close, I actually didn’t want it to end. The students impressed me that much.

I had one particular course, a general elective, that was comprised of students from various programs, along with a large contingent of general arts students. The latter group are often uncertain about what educational or career path they should take.

In the third week of class, we discussed failure. Each student wrote on a piece of paper an experience they had had with failure and what they had learned from it. Their responses were anonymous. When they completed the task, they placed their answers in a bowl (actually my wooden bowl I had blogged about earlier), and went on a break.

During the break, I read through each one and three themes emerged: failure of a relationship; failure of their driving test; and lastly, but most commonly, they had failed a course or an entire program. The majority of my class had failed at school, but here they were, giving it one more try. I tell you, that made my heart sing. They somehow made the decision to come back! One more time. And, they were not alone! Because of their honest disclosure, I thought to myself that I needed to deliver the goods to show them that they could indeed be successful.

But you know, it didn’t take any great instruction on my part. They already knew what to do. Adversity was their greatest teacher. They were pros in knowing what it was like to be scared, to take risks, and in spite of that, to keep pushing forward.

You see, the individuals who don’t struggle, who exist in their comfort zones, don’t ever find out what they are truly capable of. The struggle, any struggle, forces you to become a bitter or a better person. It's up to you how you perceive it. It's your setbacks and your failures, that can make the most dramatic and positive changes in your life. So, don’t let the challenges crush you? Embrace adversity, just as my students did.

Here are some of their responses about what they learned from failure:

  • Routine and stability are key

  • I need to get back up and try again

  • I wasn’t ready yet and needed to try something else

  • I need the right support structure in place

  • That I didn’t do everything I could to pass. I didn’t give my 100%

  • That I wanted to do the course but I needed to learn the basics first

  • Study more, not just one week before

  • That I’m capable and confident because I was so close

  • That I was my biggest obstacle

  • That I needed to take care of my mental health and take care of myself as a whole to be successful

What amazed me about their spontaneous statements, is that each and everyone of them took ownership of the problem. They realized what they could have done such as preparing better and studying more, being better organized and making sure they have a strong support system. These are the external things you can easily bring under your control, if only you commit to following through – sounds like a New Year’s resolution 😊

But what I found even more interesting was those who looked inside of themselves and discovered that a resilient mindset was critical to their success. You can have good intentions about getting organized and studying harder but distractions and excuses will surely creep in. Their voices of experience have give you better solutions that will result in permanent change:

  • have an attitude of getting back up and trying again. Fall down seven times, get up eight.

  • recognize that effort matters. Coasting may look good but you’re wasting precious time, as students who’ve failed courses know all too well.

  • believe that you are capable of more than you think you can do

  • trust that you can make it through, especially if success is in reach

  • realize that you can self-sabotage your opportunities for success, so you need to take a long look in the mirror and ask how you’re contributing to the problem. This is humbling, but necessary

  • know that your mind is either your greatest friend or your worst enemy. Choose how you interpret and process failure. Make personal wellness your goal.

So, expect adversity this year, this month, this week, and even today. As Matthew 6:34 says: do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

What you also need to expect, is that you can overcome adversity. My students did. Adversity was their best teacher, as it forced them to change their mindset and that is what it took for them to successfully complete their semester! Take courage, trust, and fear no more.

Happy New Year 😉

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© 2020 Connect the Thoughts: Charlene Mahon