“Storms make trees take deeper root. We grow strong because of adversity, not in spite of it.”
Kerri Walsh-Jennings, Olympic Gold Medalist
“There’s nothing more motivating than taking a loss…..It took the wind out of my sails. I had to take time to process it, and I learned a lot about myself. I’ve never been more motivated.”
Shaun White, Olympic Gold Medalist
Stormy weather: Unexpected, unwelcome hardship. There’s no better laboratory for coming up with an antidote to adversity than the Olympics. For the 11,000 athletes competing in 2016 Olympic Games, the road to Rio has been peppered with potholes: Every one of them has a story to tell about obstacles they’ve overcome — injuries that sidelined them for months or even years, humiliating losses they’ve suffered in public, homelessness, depression, the loss of loved ones who provided support and encouragement. Story after story.
“Adverse or ill fortune, a misfortune, a trial” — however you define “adversity,” there’s one thing we all know for sure: It’s going to find us. We’re going to encounter setbacks, rejections, and failure — and how we handle the challenges that come our way will make all the difference in how we move forward.
So what’s my takeaway from hearing elite athletes talk about their own personal climatic conditions — their storms? Here are three things I’ve learned from pros on the playing field that can help us on the page:
First, they face it head on instead of retreating. Physical injuries and major competitive disasters are impossible to deny or shy away from: They have to be absorbed and digested. There’s no way and nowhere to hide from them. The quicker athletes accept their new reality, the more quickly they seem to rebound.
Second, they don’t catastrophize, they strategize. Once they accept where they are and what’s happened, they lift themselves from the “Slough of Despond” and shift into strategy mode: They come up with a game plan for getting where they want to go. And they enlist the people around them, family and coaches, to help them get there.
And finally — and most important — they don’t view a setback as fatal, they use it as fuel. The bigger the loss, the more motivating and energizing it becomes. They dig deeper, work harder, and grow stronger. Instead of allowing the winds of adversity to rip them from their ground, they push their roots more firmly into the earth, using belief, discipline, and grit to nourish and strengthen them.
The harder the road, the sweeter the song. Adversity as enemy or energizer — the choice is ours. Write on!