How to Use Adversity to Your Advantage


[This is a post by Vishnu Virtues who writes a weekly blog to help sail through setbacks and swim with courage. You can find his blog by clicking HERE! You can connect with him on Twitter. I highly recommend you to sign up for his life-changing advice.]

“The only real misfortune, the only real tragedy, comes when we suffer without learning the lesson.” ~Emmet Fox

One of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in my life was closing a business.

A couple years after practicing law with a small, traditional law firm, I decided to venture out on my own.

The firm where I had practiced was a traditional brick-and-mortar operation that focused on referrals and lifetime relationships for business, while my new business was essentially a virtual law office serving a worldwide clientele.

I quickly had to learn online marketing, branding, blogging, SEO strategy, and some basic web design to launch a virtual office serving clients who wanted to immigrate to the U.S.

The journey of opening and running a business was a challenge, but it had moderate early success. As it was my first business and first online venture, it was also a struggle to keep it going financially, as all my earnings had to be reinvested into the business.

Approximately 2 years later, I made a business decision to close the firm and get back to a traditional job with a traditional paycheck!

Although I had failed in my first entrepreneurial venture, I had learned the ins and outs of business and marketing and learned invaluable legal skills and more about myself than ever before.

“Losing give us an opportunity to learn, but may people do not seize it. And when they don’t, losing really hurts.” ~John C. Maxwell

In John C. Maxwell’s book, Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Lose Learn (Affiliate link), Maxwell helps us reframe losses in life to see how we can really use losses for learning and future success.

Here are 4 fundamental lessons from Maxwell’s book on how to take loss and adversity and transform them into future success.

1) Improvement

“It is the capacity to improve themselves that distinguishes leaders from followers.” Bennis and Nanus

Maxwell encourages you to use every loss and failure as an opportunity to get better, improve your game, and keep progressing on your journey to success.

He encourages you to get out of your comfort zone when making improvements by making mistakes and breaking through the barrier of feelings.

Maxwell sees mistakes, not as failures, but as proof that you’re making an effort. The more mistakes you make, the more you’ll achieve. More mistakes = more success.

The other way to break through your comfort zone towards improvement is to face your fears and emotions and move ahead anyway. Maxwell calls this ability to push through your emotional barriers a necessity for improvement and innovation.

His preferred self-improvement methodology is to to adopt the small-step and daily commitment strategy to continue to make improvements in your life one day at a time and relish the small victories.

Finally, use periods of reflection and contemplation each day to ask yourself, “What did you learn today?” “How did you grow today?” and “What will you do differently?”

2. Teachability

Another way to move from the pathway of failure to success is to have a teachable spirit and a heart for learning.

“Being teachable depends on two things: capacity and attitude,” Maxwell writes.

“Our capacity may be to some degree be set. But our attitude is totally our choice. We must proactively decide to embrace an attitude of teachability.”

Have an open heart, alert mind and expectant attitude towards learning.

A beginner’s mindset as you go about your day can include repetition of these three reminders:

a) Everyone has something to teach me.
b) Every day I have something to learn.
c) Every time I learn something, I benefit.

Be introspective and contemplative, honestly and openly evaluating yourself on a continual basis.

Finally, be willing to listen and invite feedback from people who know you well and will speak honestly about your life.

3. Using adversity to your advantage

“Circumstances does not make the man; it reveals him to himself.” James Allen, As a Man Thinketh (Affiliate link).

Maxwell reminds you that you will learn the most about yourself when facing adversity.

“When facing adversity, you have the ability and choice to rise to challenges you never knew you could face. You will appreciate more in your life than ever before.”

Adversity will push you to the depth of your heart and test your strength.

Try to find the benefits or the opportunities of the situation you are in, especially when it’s looking like an uphill battle. Your difficult situation could lead to a better opportunity or new ideas.

Treat adversity as a stepping stone, not as a tombstone!

4. Keep Losses in Perspective

“You gotta lose‘m sometimes. When you do, lose‘m right.” ~Casey Stengel

Allow negative experiences to guide you to future success and achievement.

Accept your humanness. Every person has a bad day, bad experiences, or even an entirely dismal year.

“When you have a bad experience, I hope you will give yourself some grace – whether it’s a matter beyond your control or because you make a mistake,” Maxwell advises.

Remind yourself that you are NOT your bad performance. You don’t have to base your self-worth on or feel sorry for yourself because of a bad experience.

Here are strategies Maxwell suggests to have a healthier perspective on loss. When facing difficulty, remind yourself:

a) It could have been worse.
b) You may be able to help others who could have gone through similar difficulties.
c) You may have screwed up, but you can still turn it around and succeed.

Your tough life experiences will lead you to better ones. “You just have to remember that bad experiences are bad only if we fail to learn from them. And good experiences are almost always a result of previous bad experiences.”

Ask yourself, “What did you learn?” “How will this help you in the future?” “What are the positive aspects of this situation?”

In a nutshell, Maxwell’s book is a call to arms to change your thinking. If you think of adversity and setback with sadness and sorrow, you’re toast. But if you look at it as an opportunity to build up your character, learn, and allow yourself to grow from life lessons, adversity can be your launching pad for success.

Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Lose Learn (Affiliate link) is filled with strategies to overcome loss and come back after setbacks in your life. Pick it up today to cultivate more hope and direction in your life when you’re on the outs.

Questions: What have you done when facing setbacks? How did you use adversity as a springboard?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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23 thoughts on “How to Use Adversity to Your Advantage

  1. Hi Vishnu, I think it’s important to fail in order to succeed. I liken the process to a trampoline. To get higher you must first jump yourself and then sink below where you started in order to spring up even higher than before.

    • Thanks Jamie – love the analogy! Hard to understand our setbacks but if we can see them as setups for success, it’s worthwhile in the long run! Keeping that in mind during the sinking period is key.

    • I don’t know anyone who is successful who doesn’t have stories about failure, overcoming odds, and pushing through. Well written and stated.

      I’ve never thought about it the way Jamie put it in terms of a trampoline, but really like that illustration.

  2. Sound advice. With all that being said, for me the key is perseverance. Refusing to give up or in as we chip away at the stone. This is a good reminder. Thanks.

  3. “Successful people turn their greatest adversities into their greatest advantages.” It’s a line I use in my keynotes all the time and it’s so true. I have yet to meet someone who is truly successful who hasn’t turned their greatest adversity into their greatest advantage.

  4. What a great article! It’s really true that failure is a necessary part of every success. I love the emphasis on learning and growing from the “failures.” It’s a powerful message. If we could just operate under the understanding that it will all work for our good if we set out to use every bit of information that comes our way, then it is no longer “good” or “bad” if a failure or success comes. It just is what it is, and we can use all those situations, rather than feeling they are wasted.

    • Hello Elyssa,

      I agree, Vishnu wrote an amazing article. Great point about it “working for our good” if we allow it. Thank you for reading and commenting.

    • Thanks Elyssa for adding your thoughts and your feedback.

      Super insightful about taking every event for what it is without judging them. And a strong belief that it will all turn out for the best is in fact what happens in about 100% of the situations I’ve confronted in life.

      Every situation is our teacher and one that brings life lessons and insights.

  5. This is important stuff Vishnu, so often I’m tempted to avoid the adversity in my life, then I realize that God is teaching and training me through the adversity and honestly if it weren’t for the adversity there are many things I would have never done and many ways that I would be weaker than I am today.

  6. I like setbacks because it makes me human. The reason most of us hate setback is because of the discomfort it can make us feel.

    Whenever I encounter setback, it’s normal for me to feel weak but I find that it’s far more practical to think of solutions rather than thinking too much about it.