Let’s face it — we all stumble from time to time. That’s how we learn and grow.
One of the greatest examples of overcoming adversity I’ve encountered is Viktor Frankl. Frankl wrote about surviving the horrors of life in concentration camps in his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Even with all the atrocities, Frankl credits the human spirit with being strong enough to find meaning, in even the most appalling of circumstances.
That human spirit differs from person to person. Frankl writes about starving men who walked around the death camps comforting others, even giving away their last crumbs of bread. As Frankl observed, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing ... to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
This is particularly relevant in today’s uncertain world. When times are tough, you may lose hope and faith. You may find yourself wondering if or when the hardships in your life — or our world — will go away. The truth is life’s hardships are catalysts for growth, even if it’s hard to see at the time.
When facing challenges, I often say, “I wouldn’t have scripted it this way.” Yet, that push or twist in the road is exactly what I needed to take action. Sometimes these answers don’t come until much later.
In the meantime, what are we to do? Getting up and dusting yourself off is a good first step.
Author George Ziogas has developed a three-step plan that provides helpful insights. The following points may help you to navigate tumultuous times.
Pain can drive you onward
Whether mental or physical, pain is an indication that something isn’t right. As Ziogas explains, psychological pain is the result of unresolved issues smoldering beneath the surface. Only by confronting these issues, and bringing them to the surface, can you deal with them.
Everything has an opposite, observes Ziogas, and that’s what provides our contrasts in life. Pain is the opposite of joy. If not for pain, we wouldn’t have the polar opposite sensation of joy as a state of being.
Instead of running from pain, try facing it head on and asking yourself, “What is the cause of my pain?” Honestly listening, and taking steps to resolve these issues, could very well lead you closer on the continuum to joy.
I need to put up the caution flag here, though. If you’ve suffered trauma or have deeply ingrained issues, it may be advisable to work through these issues with a professional therapist. If, however, you’re experiencing recurring patterns in which you take things personally or make assumptions about others that lead you to misery, rest assured you can change these patterns over time.
Two books stand out for me, in both my professional and personal life, that you may find helpful on this front: “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, and “The Work” by Bryon Katie. I can also recommend two movies: “It’s a Beautiful Life” and “Rudy.” At one point, I took our entire office staff to see “It’s a Beautiful Life,” and I believe “Rudy” ought to be required viewing for all students in middle school or high school. Talk about overcoming odds!
Your mindset determines your outcomes
Back to Viktor Frankl. How was he able to withstand the horrors of the concentration camp and live to the ripe age of 92? Obviously, he had a strong constitution.
While your issues may not be as intense as those Frankl experienced, the way you react to hardship can determine how much of it you’re likely to experience. Your reactions have immediate and lasting effects on both your body and mind.
Most fears are not representative of reality
“It’s important to differentiate fears that stem from physical threats and fears that arise in the mind,” cautions Ziogas. “The latter are often created by the brain as it runs various scenarios deep within your subconscious.” While these mental fears can keep you from taking risks, it’s imperative in today’s world to be able to face such fears head on and move forward. You’ve got to be willing to plow through.
Building your character
It’s been said that character happens when no one is watching. It occurs when you step up to do the right thing, time after time. Another character definition I like is, “What you do when you don’t have to ... determines who you’ll be when you can’t help it.”
We all stumble. We all fall. It’s up to us, though, to get up and dust ourselves off. And remember — you don’t drown from falling in the river, you drown by staying there.