Adversities are more or less inevitable; you cannot grow without encountering adversity. It is not that we consciously create challenges because we like them; adversities are simply part of growth and life in general. If overcome, adversities can teach us great lessons. Learning leads to growth.
Overcoming adversity means surviving a situation that affects you negatively, either directly or indirectly. The word for this ability is resilience. The following three steps can help you become resilient:
- Accept the situation and try to understand it
- Do your best and remain positive
- Learn and gain empathy
The following sections outline these steps, with Sophie providing an example (in italics) of how she put them into practice.
Step 1: Accept the situation and try to understand it
What has already happened will forever be part of your life. Every moment you have lived until now is your past, and nothing can be changed in the past. This can sometimes be a hard pill to swallow.
How to live exactly as we wish is still a puzzle yet to be solved. Thus, things will not always be as we expect. When the unexpected happens, it is sometimes difficult to realize that the only way forward is to accept reality, take a moment, and analyze the situation to try to understand it. This can sometimes be a painful activity, but clarity can ease the pain.
Clarity helps us to appreciate the opportunity for growth and ignore the things we can’t do anything about. It is good to also seek the perspective of another person to address the issue of subjectivity. Ultimately, when faced with adversity, it is important to accept reality and understand the circumstances that led to the situation. This will set the stage for the other two steps.
Sometimes we can’t change a situation because it is simply out of our control. The COVID-19 pandemic is a very germane example for me. Personally, I had always dreamed of starting Thunderbird in Arizona, taking advantage of the unique confluence of perspectives and cultures through in-person gatherings and interactions. However, in Fall 2020, I was living outside the U.S. in Spain. Flights to the U.S. were nearly impossible to find as COVID cases soared and the EU banned U.S. travelers. Due to circumstances out of my control, I was forced to complete my first semester of Thunderbird online, grappling with fickle Zoom connections and an 8-to-9-hour time difference with Phoenix. I accepted this situation, knowing that I couldn’t change it, and began to analyze its implications. This led me to Step 2: doing my best and remaining positive.
Step 2: Do your best and remain positive
Whether you choose to view a situation negatively or positively, you will find reasons to corroborate your point of view. This does not discredit the unfortunate event that has occurred, but it is important to know that negativity will just exacerbate the situation and can never lead to any positive change. Conversely, positive action has proven to dissipate negativity and, in most instances, helps to restore hope.
It is tempting to give in to negativity. At the same time, this does not mean you should repress your emotions. They can sometimes be intense, especially if you realize your situation was preventable. However, as alluded to earlier, nothing can be changed about what has already happened. The wisest thing to do at this stage is to do your best to mitigate your losses and, if possible, restore them. No need to rush; take this one step at a time.
In a situation where nothing can be done on your own, talking to people or learning more about your misfortune can be helpful, as it is likely someone has gone through the same or a similar situation before. Above all, accepting reality, gaining clarity, and doing your best will definitely help you stay positive, even if your loss(es) cannot be restored. Never forget that life goes on, and what is life without hope?
Once I accepted the fact that I couldn’t change the pandemic or my quarantine in Spain, I committed to doing my best and found ways to make a difficult situation more manageable. I consulted with my academic advisor at Thunderbird and rearranged my schedule so that my courses took place in the early evening, rather than the middle of the night, in Spain. While not in person, I still networked and formed friendships with my fellow students through Zoom study sessions, WhatsApp group chats, and joining the leadership team at Das Tor. I kept my spirits up by framing every action in a positive light. For instance, the time difference was difficult, but I rationalized that staying up until 2 a.m. for office hours was good practice for my future global business career working with colleagues in different time zones. I kept reminding myself that I could learn from the challenge.
Step 3: Learn and gain empathy
It’s just a matter of time before you recognize that you have learned a great deal from your misfortune. Challenges are great sources of growth. If you don’t give in, hardships turn out to be enlightening experiences.
Not only do we learn from our own experiences, but we also come to understand the strength required to go through difficult times. The former helps us to grow, and the latter nurtures our empathy towards others, which is much needed in the world.
Above all, the adversity I faced when starting Thunderbird was a learning and growth opportunity. I learned valuable lessons about coordinating and collaborating with colleagues based around the world: how to organize a productive Zoom meeting, how to grapple with time differences when setting a meeting time, etc. The situation also allowed me to empathize and connect with students in similar situations. In fact, Jonas and I first met while chatting over WhatsApp, with him starting Thunderbird from Ghana and me from Spain! To this day, I feel I am able to better empathize with individuals dealing with pandemic travel restrictions. We still have students at Thunderbird struggling to travel to Arizona to take classes, and I feel their struggle all the more acutely because of my experience in Spain.
No one wants to face adversity. As humans, we naturally avoid discomfort and difficulties. However, life is unpredictable and imperfect, and we all will encounter adversity to varying degrees. As we start this new semester and year, the framework outlined above provides steps we can take when encountering difficulties. Whether it be quarantining due to the pandemic in Spain or struggling with a difficult class project, we hope these strategies will be helpful for this new chapter of our lives.