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The Opportunity in Adversity

By Albert Angulo

“In the middle of adversity lies opportunity.” These were the words of the incredible Albert Einstein, and I happen to believe he was right not only because I have experienced adversity all my life since the day I was prematurely born and sent my mother into a coma that lasted over a month. Adversity stuck by me all through my childhood and adolescence as I was an overly hyperactive kid and basically the embodiment of the so-called “troubled teenager.” It has followed me through my adult life in uncountable ways as though every single piece of happiness than I have had needed to be paid for, but also because I have seen the opportunities that a human being encounters while dealing with the most difficult situations of his life, where we have to make changes in order to just survive.

The human ability to adapt is an interesting thing. People have continually wanted to talk to me about “overcoming adversity,” and I’m going to make an admission: This phrase never sat right with me, and I always felt uneasy trying to answer peoples’ questions about it. I think I’m starting to figure out why: Implicit in this phrase of “overcoming adversity,” is the idea that success or happiness is about emerging on the other side of a challenging experience unscathed or unmarked by the experience; in fact, we ARE changed. We are marked, of course, by a challenge, whether physically, emotionally or both. And I’m going to suggest that this is a good thing. Adversity isn’t an obstacle that we need to get around in order to resume living our lives. It’s part of our life. And I tend to think of it like my shadow — sometimes I see a lot of it, sometimes there’s very little, but it’s always with me. By saying this, I certainly am not trying to diminish the impact, the weight, of any person’s struggle.

There is adversity and challenge in life, and it’s all very real and relative to every single person. But the question isn’t whether or not you’re going to meet adversity. It’s HOW you’re going to meet it. So our responsibility is not simply shielding those we care for from adversity but preparing them to meet it well. And we do a disservice to our kids when we make them feel that they’re not equipped to adapt.

By not treating the wholeness of a person, by not acknowledging their potency, we are creating another ill on top of whatever natural struggle they might have. We are essentially grading someone’s worth to our community. There is a partnership between those perceived deficiencies and our greatest creative ability. So it’s not about devaluing or negating these more trying times as something we want to avoid or sweep under the rug; instead, it’s about finding those opportunities wrapped in the adversity. So maybe the idea I want to put out there is not so much “overcoming adversity” as it is opening ourselves up to it, embracing it, grappling with it (to use a wrestling term), maybe even dancing with it. And perhaps, if we see adversity as natural, consistent and useful, we’ll be less burdened by the presence of it.

This year, we celebrate the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. When writing about evolution 150 years ago, Darwin illustrated, I think, a truth about the human character. To paraphrase: “It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor is it the most intelligent that survives; it is the one that is most adaptable to change.” Conflict is the genesis of creation. From Darwin’s work, amongst others, we can recognize that the human ability to survive and flourish is driven by the struggle of the human spirit through conflict into transformation. So, again, transformation/adaptation is our greatest human skill. And perhaps until we are tested, we will never know what are we made of. Maybe that’s what adversity gives us: a sense of self, a sense of our own power. So we can give ourselves a gift. We can re-imagine adversity as something more than just “tough times.” Maybe we can see it as change. Adversity is just change that we haven’t adapted ourselves to yet.

I think the greatest adversity that we’ve created for ourselves is this idea of “normalcy.” Now, who’s normal? There is no normal. There’s common; there’s typical; but there’s no normal; and would you want to meet that poor, beige person if they existed? I don’t think so. If we can change this paradigm from one of achieving normalcy to one of possibility or potency, to be even a little bit more dangerous, we can release the power of so many more children and invite them to engage their rare and valuable abilities with the community.

All you really need is one person to show you the epiphany of your own power and you’re off! If you can hand somebody the key to their own power, the human spirit is so receptive. If you can do that and open a door for someone at a crucial moment, you are educating them in the best sense. You’re teaching them to open doors for themselves. In fact, the exact meaning of the word “educate” comes from the root word “educe.” It means to bring forth what is within, to bring out potential. So again, which potential do we want to bring out? I leave you, my dear readers, with this question to meditate. As always, wishing you the best, Albert Angulo.