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Embracing Adversity – A skill that can be learned!

Embracing Adversity – A skill that can be learned!

by Insight World EditorJuly 24, 2019

By Zubair Ahmed, SVP, Emirated NBD Group Operations & Transformation

When situations get dire, we have all seen personal resilience in people around us. We have called it many different things – the spirit of a fighter, never say die attitude, or simply put, an ability to bounce back. Witnessing such personal resilience, we have been astonished at times, at ways in which people can survive, and often thrive, despite facing life changing setbacks, and wondered about the source of this very special human power.

The world is increasingly acknowledging that EQ (emotional quotient) is just as vital, if not more, than IQ (intelligence quotient) as far as success in business and life is concerned. A person with high EQ carries an acute awareness of self and the environment, and is armed with a sharp intuition that helps balance the world around them. However, IQ and EQ both put together don’t tell us how a person might react in times of crises, adversities or when pushed into a corner. Thus, a new quotient is on the horizon, called Adversity Quotient (AQ) and it is about resilience in people. AQ is a measure of how a person receives and responds to an adverse situation. Along with its predecessors, AQ is becoming an important hiring criteria for organizations. Being intelligent and having emotional awareness is important, but the ability to operate in uncertainties by embracing adversity is a gift.

Though special, resilience is a natural human ability that can be activated by anyone who puts their mind to it. Resilient people who bounce back from the inevitable adversities in life have four key attributes – they are able to consciously self-reflect, recognize the lessons that need to be learnt, develop a plan and put it in action to move forward.

The key takeaway here is that every challenge or situation is actually an invitation to a richer and wholesome life. Challenges pave the way to one’s greatest moments. Packaging might not be pleasant but definitely there is a gift inside.

Why should we care?

As the famous saying goes – “only in absolute darkness do you see the brightest of lights”. Setbacks, pain, traumas are all designed to challenge our limits, which once crossed, tend to break. People with low AQ have struggled to come out of this situation and often fall into patterns of negativity and defeat. On the other hand, people with high AQ are able to focus their thoughts on what can be salvaged, how things can be turned around, they work on balancing and clearing their energies and create a knowing for entertaining thoughts for what they want, instead of what they do not want. A higher degree of resilience, increases the effectiveness of one’s response towards life’s difficulties. Having this ability to handle adversity, also makes life more fulfilling.

Studies have shown that we can potentially re-wire our response to adversity, thereby overtime, increasing our AQ from low to high. This means, one can actually work on consciously developing this ability. People with high levels of AQ perceive themselves as having more control and influence in adverse situations than those with lower AQs. Even in situations that seem overwhelming or out of their hands, those with high AQ invariably find or interpret some part of the situation to be under their control. People with low AQ usually give up. Those with high AQs hold themselves accountable for dealing with situations regardless of the cause, while the ones with lower AQs lapse into victimization and helplessness. People with high AQs have the ability to feel “this too shall pass,” and go on. One with lower AQs believe there is no way out of these unsavory situations.

Ways of the Universe

By nature, universe is positive. It works for our success and well-being. In order for us to attain excellence in life, challenges are presented to propel growth. People with low AQ are unable to embrace adversity and miss out on receiving associated learnings. They instead distract themselves or plan an escape, hoping it would somehow better the situation. This behavior usually attracts another adverse situation (often of similar nature), hoping learning would be realized this time. At times this vicious cycle continues, thereby creating a never ending adversity pattern. This pattern can only be broken by embracing the situation at hand and learning from it. Let’s put this in the context of everyday life. One example is about working with a difficult manager in the workplace. After days of torment, you decide to quit the job and join a new company, only to find another bad manager all over again. Another example is to have loved and lost, having gone through this situation a few times, this becomes a vicious pattern, where one takes an extreme decision of never falling in love again (a classic self-defense mechanism). This tendency to escape becomes the remedy of choice and sadly a limiting belief for life.

Embracing adversity is an eye opener with several long term benefits, some of which are given below: –

1.      Know thyself more

Adversity helps us look inwards and understand ourselves better. This in time will become one of your most dependable strengths – an ability that could bring clarity to extremely complex situations. Adversities come in different forms, all having the same function of slowing you down. Since it can help you understand yourself and your environment better, adversity can therefore help you find your life’s true path. Analyzing the life stories of past legends, we gather that their true greatness was revealed not in times of happiness and contentment but instead in their darkest hours and most adverse moments.

2.      Thy true friends show up

In times of adversity, you get to know your true well-wishers. Don’t be surprised at how few remain. The ones that do, will unconditionally stand by you, share a hand and encourage you to find the strength, to stand on your own. When adversity has passed, you are left with this wonderful knowing of who your true friends are.

3.      Thy solution maker is born, within you

In the face of adversity, the fighter within you emerges (provided you embrace it). Adversity pushes you in a corner, often with all odds stacked up against you, thereby invoking your creativity and imagination to deal with a situation, in ways never seen before. Plato’s words “necessity is the mother of invention” says it all. Creativity and out-of-the-box thinking is formed when you are really cornered and decide to fight back.

4.      Thy resilience is formed

Once you decide to embrace adversity, your resilient character starts taking shape. No matter how strong your support system is, ultimately it is you who decides for your life, by taking control and making things happen. There are two unique views in life. Each of us practices both, perhaps one more than the other. One view “Outside-In” states that “I could have reached my potential and scaled heights only if the world and its people were more helpful and supportive, only if my circumstances were better, and my luck was shining”. This view concludes that “I am, who I was forced to be” (outside-in). The other view “Inside-Out” states that everything which happens to me is because of me, it is generated within me, I cause my happiness and success and not the circumstances or the people. This view concludes that “I am, who I choose to be”. Situations decide which view is the best fit. Some of us struggle to get this fitment right, but the important thing is to be aware of how you are viewing a particular situation and course correct where necessary.

5.      Thy self-reflections become pro-active

For many of us, self-reflection happens on a reactive basis. When outcomes are produced, post-facto reflections are done to assess the learning of what worked and what can be improved. Shift is to conduct proactive self-reflection (serious thought about one’s character and actions). Proactive pondering aids in understanding the big picture, without the hassle of dealing with a negative result before us, which often clouds the thinking.


Adversity, no matter how draining, is actually an opportunity for you to improve and grow. Its impact could be life-changing as it might be the only thing that can pull you out from your comfort zone. Perception and perspective is your own reality. Your personal appraisal of a situation, meaning the extent to which you perceive the event as a threat or crisis, determines your personal response. You cannot control the events in your life but YOU can control how you react to them. Resilient people are able to appraise the situation as less threatening and can find personal resources as more than sufficient to deal with what lies before them.

About The Author
Insight World Editor