Adversity Is Gilded With Hope

2009 June 8

Adversity has led me to some of my greatest moments of realizations and emotional freedom. Yet, while in the thick of it I’ve cried, kicked and screamed my way through the pain (while chanting, “this too will pass, this too will pass…”)

So, like clockwork this equation enters our lives:

Adversity and suffering=growth and realization (then, repeat over and over and over)

I know that much is true. But that’s not enough and since I ask a lot of questions, I want to know why; the core reason of our psychological needs and desires for finding hope through adversity.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow explains in his Hierarchy of Needs that once the basics of life are established, people need a sense of meaning and a higher purpose than just survival. So we establish a foundation of confidence and self-esteem, but inherently we need a challenge to feel satisfied. This is often seen as a validation to express who we are to ourselves, friends and family.


Begin Young

So how does this begin? How do you go in the right direction? This practice of growth and optimism, even in adversity should begin from an early age. Ph.D., Anabel Jensen reflects that if she could teach her child one lesson, “I would teach how adversity can be gilded with hope.” She speaks about helping your child, at a young age, to build an immunity to his/her setbacks and put-downs. “Inocluate him/her with the skills of optimism.” If we are taught at a young age a realistic life view but to keep persisting then we begin on a path of self-actualization.

The Power of Adversity In Growing Up

As we’re growing up and sifting through what our life has become and is becoming it’s important to begin beliving and living with the attitude that adversity is power.

Philanthropist and business leader Al Weatherhead, who wrote The Power of Adversity draws on his own experiences (alcoholism, two failed marriages and a life threatening heart disease) to leverage his life in a positive upswing. He mentions in his book that tough times actually offer unique opportunities for personal growth such as becoming more creative problem-solvers, strengthening self-confidence and altering our perspective on life.

Weatherhead asserts, “Our lives are journeys of transformation, and each time the catalyst for change is painful circumstances…we can’t grow as human beings without seeing ourselves-and our relationships to others-through the unique and challenging lens of adversity.”

Okay, so I’m saying that adversity and stress will always exist. Shit just happens. But I can leave you with Weatherheads belief about attitude that I think might just lighten your step and help you realize you hold the power of change in your hands: “Your adversity is real. It cannot change. But it can be transformed.”

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  • ryanstephens

    This is so true. Not once in my life have I faced a tough period of adversity that I haven't emerged out the other side a stronger, more well-versed person. The next time something similar happens it sucks a lot less, you stop getting as surprised by things that in the scheme of things are usually relatively inconsequential. You're also more equipped to help your friends through their own periods of adversity.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Ryan Good point that not only are you more equipped to get through the challenge on your own, but you can also offer insight to your friends. By now, I stop being surprised but there is a lot to still learn and grow from when faced with a new piece of adversity. Thanks for sharing!

  • Sean


    Very nice post. As soon as you realize that you DO have the power to change, and make small steps towards doing so, you start to realize what is truly possible. I also have to agree with Ryan that every tough time you experience makes you a stronger person in the end. Also thanks for the throwback to my college days with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs…its been awhile since I have thought about that!


  • Grace Boyle

    @Sean Conceptual realization that you have the power to change is much hard to obtain and understand than we would think. When I was researching for this piece I stumbled across Maslow and totally thought of college, as well. I'm glad to help with the throwback :)

  • sameve

    Grace, this is such a great outlook, and I can personally vouch for its validity. I have gone through some tough stuff in the past year, and while I was in the middle of it, I was absolutely miserable. People kept telling me that everything would be okay, but I didn't really believe them. Things are better now, everything's not okay, but I don't expect it to be. However, now that I'm removed enough from everything to look back, I can see that I've learned a lot. Each experience has taught me something valuable about myself, and about life. Thanks for sharing this info!

  • Matthew

    You only learn with experience and you only grow through adversity. I think sometimes, a lot of the time, hell, most of the time – it's extremely hard for us to see the gilded lining around the negative. We desperately want something to go right for us and then it doesn't – then we think we deserve SOMETHING good to happen for us, and it still doesn't. It makes us ask 'what have I done to deserve such hardship?'

    What I have to do for myself is take a step back and put things in perspective. I'm not 'special' in the way I think I should be – who is to say I'm any more deserving of greatness than you Grace, or anyone else for that matter? It's all about earning it. Going through the bad times to get to the good – not wallowing in failure but learning and growing from the bad times in life, that may not be 'deserved' but are inevitable from time to time. It's those that power though and keep moving that end up standing out, instead of simply coasting through life.

    Great post as always, Grace!

  • Grace Boyle

    @Sam You're completely right. While in the tunnel it's usually dark and hard to see any light (light being many things such as your supporters telling you it will be better) but once you're outside the tunnel you can reflect on what you learned, saw and did. Hindsight has been such a blessing to me after I go through some sort of challenge.

    @Matt It sounds like you have a good grasp and understanding of how important adversity is to success, just like a blessing in disguise. I have a hard problem, however, with 'no pain, no gain.' I don't think it all has to be negative to learn, grow or do better. With everything, balance is necessary and like you said, it's those that power through that end up standing out in the end. Thanks for your words :)

  • Park Howell

    As a follow up to your post, there is a wonderful book out by Dr. Dan Baker called, “What Happy People Know.” Everyone who is troubled by our current events, which pretty much means everyone, should spend the weekend reading this interesting book. It taught me a lot about getting through adversity, even when it's only perceived adversity:

  • Grace Boyle

    @Park Thanks for the tweets and additional link about Dr. Dan Baker's book. I think it's interesting how he talks about human beings only having two primal feelings: “fear and love.” You wrote a really interesting post around it and I love when readers share pertinent information around the topic. Thanks for sharing!

  • opheliaswebb

    As a bit of shallow insight, your first paragraph reminds me of my first “deep” philosophical statement as a philosophy student at age 19. “The back of a shampoo bottle is a great commentary on the importance of perseverance in life…lather, rinse, repeat.” Yeah, I was super cool. :)

    I was, at the time, reading about the conditioning of the human spirit. It was quite interesting, and definitely made me think a bit. Probably helped condition my human spirit a bit. They spoke a lot about how adversity separates the successful from the complacent. Complacent people fear adversity (I'm sure Matt could expound a bunch on how much people fear change!) and they will do anything to avoid it. Successful people seek it out, they embrace it. They learn that the challenges and difficulties make you stronger and teach you lessons that will advance your life. They are the folks who find the hope in adversity, they are willing to “lather, rinse, repeat.”

  • Simon

    Oddly enough, it seems like we just can't break from this pattern. Maybe that's a good thing, actually because even in the discomfort of suffering, we are able to somehow find comfort because it is in fact the norm.

  • Carlos Miceli

    Grace, this is great, as usual. Kudos on those graphics and quotes, they really add value to the post.

    I can't help to wonder if our generation isn't the luckiest one in a long time. We get to live, grow and ultimately learn from a once in a lifetime global scenario. We deal with so much adversity, that, if we are up to the task, we will face some of the most rewarding challenges ever.

    Just a random thought.

    Great job Grace, keep it up!

  • Grace Boyle

    @Elisa I was totally grinning when you mentioned your philosophical insight (even if it did have to do with the back of a shampoo bottle)! Life is a series of cycles, changing and always helping us to grow. I love what you've shared, thank you!

  • Grace Boyle

    @Simon True that: “Even in the discomfort of suffering, we are able to somehow find comfort because it is in fact the norm.” I think if more people would recognize the regularity of suffering and recognize the growth (even in the pain) life could be a bit easier.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Carlos Thanks, I've really been trying to work off of great sayings and quotes. They tend to provide inspiration. I do agree with you that our generation is amongst one of the worst situations we've seen in a long time (economically, environmentally, etc). However, on the flip side if there's so much adversity just like you said, the upside is that there's more to overcome and more power for us to trudge through. Awesome thoughts!

  • Brett Borders

    My adversity feels real right now. My larynx fracture is on its second month of healing after surgery and every day I wake up wondering how my voice will sound – how I'm gonna get by – and what my life is going to be like in the near and far future. I have no doubt that I will get through and do something cool eventually, but it's really rough as an independent consultant (talker) and teacher (talker) for now – where my income depends on my ability to interview, meet, sell, close, and explain the heck out of multiple projects every month. I had everything planned out and a path to follow but now I am being given a chance to re-evaluate it and consider other options… seeing that what I think I wanted may not be what would actually make me happy.

    I'm still healing and NOT giving up hope that I can return to my life as it were before my accident, but adversity is definitely a very powerful catalyst for me to think about what's real, what's important and consider things I was previously ignoring.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Brett I'm sorry for your larynx injury…it is really unfortunate. Whenever I make a plan, I always believe that there is a plan b, c, d, etc. and letting go of that expectation is part of it, but it's so much easier said than done.

    I'm glad to see you're not giving up hope. Sometimes we can realize things that we didn't even see prior to whatever may have shook up our life as we know it. It seems like you're seeing and understanding that everyday as you're still healing. I say, keep that piece up and find that other window that may open since one closed. Best of luck in the healing process, Brett!

  • Akhila

    I'm late to comment on this post (just got done with finals and have a moment!) but beautiful post Grace, as always!! It's totally true – adversity has always helped me grow as a person. If you experience pain and suffering it seems horrible at that moment, but looking back on it it always makes you stronger, more confident, more able to tackle anything that comes your way. It motivates you to try even harder, I find, because you know how lucky you are and how much worse things could be.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Akhila Thanks for taking a moment to pop on over, I can only imagine how busy you have been :) I guess the part was me learning to recognize that adversity HELPS us to grow. Hindsight helps but I'm learning / trying to recognize while I'm actually in the crisis or issue to step outside of it, breathe and know I will come out on the other end. Thanks for sharing and congrats on finishing :)

  • Joan

    Excellent insight Gracie, this is my first time on your blog and I have truly enjoyed many of the comments.

    One comment I would like to make that expands this idea is the concept of “internal” or “external” locus of control. This concept was developed by Julian Rotter in 1950's and refers to whether we believe the causes of events that happen in our life are controlled by ourself or “external” others.

    An example: I write and exam and fail miserably – do I blame it on myself (I didn't study much and crammed the night before – internal) or do I blame my failure on the professor (he wrote an unfair exam – external).

    I have seen numerous occasions when my peers have blamed something or someone else for adversity in their life and their opportunity for growth is very seriously affected by this “external” locus of control. I believe in order to achieve personal growth we have to be willing to take responsibilty for our actions. On the other hand, there are instances (Brett's larynx injury for example) where, although I do not know the circumstances, we might assume that shit happens and no one is responsible.

  • Grace Boyle

    @Joan Thank you so much for stopping by. It's funny you mention locus of control. I did a science project (way back when) with a brain research institute on risk-taking behavior in adolescents and we focused on locus of control and prefrontal cortex development (

    Blaming someone else for the adversity in your life is such a common issue. I love this example and the knowledge you have provided. Very interesting and thank you for sharing. I look forward to hearing from you again.

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  • Beth Oppenheim

    What great insights, Grace! I think the interesting thing about adversity is the way in which we don't even really know the extent of its effect on us until later. I love the idea also of transforming the energy from adversity to strength. Its important for having a positive outlook!

  • Grace Boyle

    @Beth Thank you. I revisit this post to remind myself the amount of hope that can be found within struggles and adversity.

  • Beth Oppenheim

    What great insights, Grace! I think the interesting thing about adversity is the way in which we don't even really know the extent of its effect on us until later. I love the idea also of transforming the energy from adversity to strength. Its important for having a positive outlook!

  • Grace Boyle

    @Beth Thank you. I revisit this post to remind myself the amount of hope that can be found within struggles and adversity.

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  • Yuehui

    Good thoughts and i agree with you
    Next time i will choose to face the adversities
    I belive happiness comes from adversities

  • Yuehui

    I think your pionts can make a big difference to some chinese students like me

  • Grace Boyle

    @Yuehui Thank you! I'm happy to hear you could connect with these points. Stop by anytime :)

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