Harvey Mackay Academy's Blog

In life, things happen to us, but the only thing that truly matters is what happens within us. 

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the University of Minnesota head football coach PJ Fleck.  I asked PJ what he looks for when he recruits players.  PJ said he wants kids that have faced adversity and gone through a lot so far in their young lives. 

Maybe that’s why my long-time friend and legendary college football coach, Lou Holtz, said:  “Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.”

I have never yet met a successful person that hasn’t had to overcome either a little or a lot of adversity in his/her life.  I want people who can accomplish their goals.  I want people who are tougher and better and smarter and harder working and more able than our competition.  If people believe in themselves, there’s hardly anything that they can’t accomplish.

When asked the secret of his success, J.C. Penney replied, “Adversity.  I would never have amounted to anything had I not been forced to come up the hard way.”

William M Batten, the former chief executive of J.C. Penney, said:  “When I hear my friends say they hope their children don’t have to experience the hardships they went through – I don’t agree.  Those hardships made us what we are.  You can be disadvantaged in many ways, and one way may be not having had to struggle.”

Everyone faces adversity, pain, loss and suffering in life.  When you go through those periods, it’s hard to remember that the emotions you’re feeling are only temporary.  The best thing to do is to develop a plan for what you will do when these times hit and find your way to the silver lining – the place where you can feel hopeful again.

First examine whether you have:

     • A personal sense of commitment in life.

     • A feeling of control over life.

     • An ability to let go when appropriate.

     • A strong personal support system.

     • Strong values.

Without these attributes, even small stumbling blocks can magnify everything to the point of inducing failure.  Work at developing these traits.

Keep in mind, there are plenty of things you can’t control, such as traffic, the number of hours in a day, your age, other people’s whims and reactions, and of course, death and taxes.  Your attitude toward these usually minor annoyances will determine whether you turn them into adversity or face them for what they are:  facts of life.

But you do have control over some significant areas that will minimize the adversity you encounter, such as your treatment of others, the way you spend your time outside of work, your self-image, when and how to share your feelings, how to let others know you’re stressed, and how old you act.

In other words, take care of the little things and suddenly, the big things take on a more realistic perspective.

I’m often asked how do I deal with adversity?  The first thing I do is to stay focused on the task at hand.  When dealing with adversity it’s important to stay present and mindful of the moment. 

Second is to break things down.  What is important?  Try and not get overwhelmed when facing adversity and setbacks.

Third, take whatever immediate action is necessary, but if you have the luxury of time, sleep on it.

And finally, it’s always good to have mentors or a trusty “kitchen cabinet” to be your sounding board. 

A playful story is told of a man walking home from work in the dark of night.  Not noticing a large hole in the street produced by recent construction, he fell in.  Every effort to escape was futile, so he leaned back in the corner and fell asleep.

A short time later another walker found himself quickly descending to the bottom of the hole.  He too struggled and strained to find a way out.  Exhausted, he was about to sit down and wait for the morning light when he heard a voice in the darkness say, “Forget it, fella.  You can’t get out.”

In a split second he was out!

Isn’t it amazing how all of a sudden the man was able to jump a little higher, put forth a little more effort, climb a little farther to escape his predicament.  The “voice in the night” provided just the motivation he needed.

Mackay’s Moral:  Turn adversity to advantage with the right attitude. 

About the Author

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.