The Adversity Curve is my attempt to help individuals make use of one of the key aspects of learning and development. The Center for Creative Leadership published a report a number of years ago defining Hardships as being one of three key aspects related to how leaders grow (Significant Relationships and Assignments being the other two). I prefer to use the term Adversity rather than Hardships. My desire is to put context and framework around how handling Adversity constructively can powerfully contribute to a person’s ability to improve.
My last article discussed the internal domain of individuals (thoughts, feelings, and behaviors). Facing significant Adversity is often tricky because of issues swirling around the internal domain that trigger uncomfortable emotions, even terror. It’s then typical for people to deny that the Adversity is significant, or even that it’s occurring. Choosing to consciously face an Adversity is paramount for effectively overcoming it. And further, it’s likely an affirmative response to a “call to action,” a concept related to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. The Hero’s Journey is the metaphor Campbell used to describe the path people take on the way to personal transformation and contribution to the world.
In this article, I’d like to provide some basic, accessible tools for managing this part of the process. This stage – which I call PAUSE – is the stage where a person chooses to face the Adversity or to live in denial of it. In each stage, a person must contend with three things: a Key Question, a Key Choice, and a Key Blocker.
The Key Question: Can I face reality? (What is it?)
It may be an absurdly basic question. Yet I’ve found that many of life’s most profound changes happen as a result of these sorts of inquiries. Can I face the reality that I’m underperforming in my job? It’s important to keep in my that it’s completely possible to show up everyday at work without ever facing the reality that I’m seriously underperforming. Knowing that it’s happening and facing it are two different matters. It’s similar to the difference people draw between agreement and commitment. Agreement means intellectually accepting something and commitment means making a promise or obligation to do something. Plenty of people know that they’re underperforming; but how many are ready to promise to do something about it? And sometimes the parenthetical question above – What is it? – is the right question. For some, the open ended question works better (I’ve found that it truly depends on the person). Some may say, “Yes, I can face reality!” and then do nothing about it. These folks need to actually say to themselves or others: “The reality of my situation is that I’m underperforming in my job.” This is the step that opens the door to meaningful progress.
The Key Choice: I will either address my challenge or I will avoid it.
As with many things in life this is something that is both straightforward and incredibly difficult to do. Depending on the situation, addressing an Adversity-related challenge may result in quite a bit of discomfort, some self-imposed and some in relation to others. It’s also important to note that most people need to keep running their lives while working through an Adversity. Therefore, it’s not inappropriate to say, “I’m going to face this Adversity in stages that will allow me to continue operating my life.” For example, if a person is underperforming in their job they may conclude that they need to find one that is better aligned with their talents. Yet quitting on the spot and hoping something better comes along is not a responsible way to face the issue. It would be far better for this person to face the challenge, update their resume, start networking, and tie up any loose ends in their current role.
The Key Blocker: Denial as an avoidance mechanism.
So much has been written about denial that I hardly see the need to spend time reviewing it. Most people have encountered Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s model the Five Stages of Grief, the first of which is denial. The point is, denial plays a healthy role in coping, yet it can also play a harmful role in avoiding. Denial is not a bad reaction in the right circumstance. It is, however, a bad reaction when a person simply would prefer not to face reality. And don’t think that the magnitude of the situation has any determination on the choice to face it. Entire companies and industries have collapsed or perished as a result of choosing not to address an existential threat staring right at them.
In summary, the first stage of constructively facing Adversity is Pause. This stage includes a key question, a key choice, and a key blocker. In this stage the key is to interrupt your normal state of affairs. Slow down long enough to actually see what is happening around you.
The next article looks as the key role of guides along the way.