5 Steps to Adapt to, Embrace and Transform Significant Adversity

What if the greatest thing you could do was love the experiences that stop you in your tracks?

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Photo by Will Van Wingerd at Unsplash

As entrepreneurs or those who live with an entrepreneurial spirit, it is easy to sometimes feel somewhat invincible. We’re in the zone, on a role, thinking outside the box, seeing things from a powerful perspective...and then, from seemingly out of nowhere life shows us something new, something exponentially more challenging than our everyday feats hits.

Being abundantly happy, successful, fulfilled or honoring our life’s purpose obviously won’t grant us immunity from sudden or inexplicable turns. Sometimes adversity or great challenges brushes in as a gentle whisper or a light tap on the shoulder; other times it’s a more pronounced nudge or a giant, unexpected wallop over the head (metaphorically speaking, of course). The later can feel like we’ve been gobsmacked – our life’s course halted, blurred or fully redirected.

Gobsmack: Completely dumbfounded, shocked. From the Irish word "gob" meaning "mouth" (Urban Dictionary)

When we get “gobsmacked,” we are left feeling naïve and unprepared, in spite of all the knowledge and wisdom we’ve gathered along the journey of life. The initial shock can feel like life has forced you off the proverbial cliff, and in the words of the late Tom Petty, there you are “learning to fly, but you ain’t got wings.” Coming down really is the hardest thing.

How do you mentally, emotionally and spiritually process what has happened? How do you reset and get your feet back on the ground, moving forward with life? 

What if the greatest thing you could do was love the experiences that stop you in your tracks?

Loving our experiences doesn’t mean bypassing the need to feel anger, frustration and sadness; it means that we keep moving through those emotions to reach a place of transformation, where love, instead of fear, leads the way.

Not convinced? Here’s a story of life forcing a friend of mine off a literal cliff:

C.J. Wilkins found enjoyment in jumping off of cliffs. He is a paraglider...was a paraglider – an exhilarating and dangerous sport that requires great knowledge of the weather and air conditions. As a veteran paraglider, he knew when it was safe to jump and he also knew the risks.

On a sunny summer’s day, C.J. jumped off a mountain in western British Columbia and got caught in the convergence of two air masses that spun him around and slammed him into the side of a nearby cliff. After great struggle, first-response crews reached him, air-lifting him to hospital an hour away. He underwent three surgeries to reconstruct his spine. It was questioned whether he would ever walk again.

At the core of who he was, C.J. was a serial entrepreneur. He knew what it was to hold a vision at heart, defy the odds, reach beyond the status quo and take calculated risks. Amazingly, crashing into a mountain hadn’t deterred his entrepreneurial spirit. He used that spirit to push through months of intensive rehabilitation, sharing photos and videos on social media and gathering a squad of cheerleaders.

Pushing the bounds of what was possible, one step at a time, C.J. began walking again. He found strength from his unshakable spirit and from great supporters in hospital and in his life – those who walked by his side, as slow as required, to help him regain his strength. The experienced had humbled him, though by no means did he allow it to stop him.

Over the months that followed, his mind pushed him beyond the matter of a frail spine, bolted together with 13 of pieces of metal. Not only did he walk again, he began to hike and bike with vigor, breaking all notions of what his physical capacity should be. C.J. was authentic about the odds, the struggle and the need for sheer determination, using them all as fuel for his quest to return to living a full life.

Within a year, he was hiking up mountains, keeping pace with friends who were in impeccable shape. When a follow-up surgery freed him to use some of his own natural body function (and liberated him of 5 of the metal plates), he sought higher mountains and tested the limitlessness of not only his recovery and resilience, but also his ability to reach heights not previously known.

C.J. achieved what he did because he believed it was possible, for himself and for anyone. He knew that he had what it takes to fly, even without wings. Embracing his second chance at life, he found another way to leap off of mountains by adapting and adjusting his passion and vision. Instead of paragliding off the mountain peaks, he shifted to biking up them. He found a love and thrill for taking on the mountains of the Canadian Rockies. He biked through France. It was clear that there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do.

By biking all the way up the mountain and getting the high of swiftly spinning his wheels through the trails on the way down, he had found a new way to embrace the mountains...the same mountains that had crippled him.

He chose to not hate the mountains – he chose to love them.

These experiences that push us off the proverbial cliff or employ the unexpected wallop come in many forms:

  • The loss of a loved one
  • Job Loss
  • Major illness
  • The end of a relationship or partnership
  • Financial hardship

When they hit, the feeling is one of being swept away from (or swiftly off) our comfort zone, like a giant gust of wind redirecting our path. After giving ourselves the necessary time to feel and heal from the adversity, we have the choice whether or not to see the awareness and opportunity that has been created by the painful shift.

Regardless of how hard our experiences are – those mountains that move us – we can choose to love them. Our experiences are the hand that feeds our soul by showing us the potential we hold when we are pushed to the proverbial edge. If we open ourselves us to being students and learning from life, these events can also become the ties that bind us – proving opportunity to learn and teach something of immeasurable value. They can help us grow stronger as a collective society that supports one another in navigating life’s journey with greater ease.

Love your experiences – they are your teachers.

These forced leaps of life, steering up into the depths of the unknown, allow us the opportunity to be introspective, to reassess our current path and gain clarity of what really matters, to us and to those we support.

Here are 5 steps you can take to adapt to, embrace and transform significant challenge or adversity:

3 Choices to Navigate Significant Challenge and Become Boundless

1. Get to Know Yourself – While adversity often forces us to be introspective, it is also crucial to have self-awareness prior to facing tumultuous times. When we know who we are – our beliefs, values, attributes, abilities and attitude – we have a rock to stand on, so to speak. The more you know about what you are able to do, the more you can do all that you can, even when seated amid great adversity. Secondarily, self-awareness is key because when something happens that leaves us feeling like everything has been shaken or swept away, having the knowledge that we haven’t lost who we are is extremely powerful. No matter what you lose, you can never lose yourself or your ability to be resilient. This awareness can become the center-point and fuel for regaining your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strength. C.J. knew that he could achieve the impossible, and he did. Choose to defy (“I am,” “I can,” “I will.”) rather than justify (“I can’t because...”).

2. Compassion and Small Action – Think of how you’d treat a child who has had a big fall. You aren’t going to force them to immediately get up. Chance are, you’ll comfort them and see what they need. From there, you take gradual steps and do what you can to ease the pain and help them restore their smile and their ability to run freely. The same should apply for how you treat yourself in the wake of great adversity. Take small steps, be supportive of yourself and find others to support you. C.J. was only able to walk again because of those who helped hold him up during his most difficult weeks of rehabilitation.

3. Befriend Change – Love your metaphorical mountains, big and small. Love the valleys too. Change, good or bad, foreseen or unexpected, opens the door to development and growth. If you’ve never so much as changed the location of your toothbrush, the contents of your kitchen or office drawers or taken a new route to the office, then any unexpected change will leave you lost for direction. Make small changes a regular part of your life. They will exponentially increase your adaptability to significant or unexpected change.

4. Maximize Your Momentum – Here’s where most of us don’t give ourselves enough credit: It takes an enormous amount of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strength to keep moving forward after great challenge or adversity. Simply reaching the point of reinstating our previous “status quo” can feel like a momentous feat. Have you considered how much momentum you’ve build when you’ve worked so hard to rebuild or re-establish your life? What if you could continue to use that momentum to take you to place that you didn’t even know you could go? C.J. used the momentum of defying the odds to walk again and set it in motion to making his way to the mountain peaks, not only on foot, but also on bike, all over the world! Take stock of your strength, value it and make it your fuel. Do more than overcome. When you open yourself up to the possibility of what you can create in your life, for yourself and for others, you see how boundless you can really be. Let your momentum take you to where you are capable of going. Don’t stop at what you know, because getting gobsmacked has provided you with the opportunity to take your life to new heights. Be willing to venture into the unknown. Make the choice to use your momentum to grow from, transcend and transform your experiences...and perhaps to give meaning to the experiences themselves by using them to help, teach or support others).

No one ever said the journey of life was going to be easy. Destruction can be a powerful prerequisite and fuel for reconstruction – for building something more deeply purposeful than we previously knew possible. This is not to negligently say that “everything happens for a reason,” but rather that within every circumstance, we have the opportunity to use our experiences as the foundation to create something meaningful – something that fills our heart and helps ease the way for others.

Love your mountains. Let them take you into the unknown, for there you might just discover your boundless potential.

Well-Being, Tomorrow, Self-Care, Mental Health, Life Lessons, Inspiration, Health and Wellness, Fuel Yourself, Death, Advice

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