Adversity strengthens determination

Adversity can create new friends.

I first started in my own business, in the agricultural machinery industry, at the ripe old age of 24. I was used to winning; everything seemed to work for me; I rarely felt the ill winds of adversity. When I look back on those ill winds of trouble, I understand the importance of making mistakes and having failures, something it takes the time to understand genuinely.

A case study by Peter Sergeant

The nature of adversity

It was the loss of a tractor sale which changed my mindset from loser to winner. I quickly learned that for you to win someone else had to lose, the pie was not necessarily going to get any bigger. I had to learn how to win, but I also realised each time I lost, my knowledge increased. Every time we lost a sale, we became a little better until we began beating the competitors and overcame our difficulties and misalignments with what customers were seeking.

While over the first few years, we reduced competitors from twelve in our town back to four, losing a few sales did not constitute adversity. Adversity first struck with a significant rural recession. The farmers were not making money, and few would invest in their future.  Fortunately, we were small enough to withstand the issues involved. In the years we were in business, we weathered several droughts, weak commodity prices and multinationals dumping products on the market.

What made the difference

What made the difference was remaining passionate about managing our business better, as well as working to our strengths and providing the best possible service to our customers. 

Starting businesses is not for everyone.

Starting businesses should be fun.

The real understanding of adversity came when we faced the worst drought in 100 years. The real impact was terrifying. Farmers were shooting their cattle and sheep, there was no feed, and it was much cheaper to shoot them than truck them to market and get next to nothing for them. We were eventually forced to close the business as there was nothing we could do, but to face the reality of our situation and move on.

Eight years later, I was still only 46 years old; adversity struck again. This time, it was personal. I had to undergo a significant bowel cancer operation, which was soon followed by diabetes and then a couple of years later, I had a heart attack. It is the sort of adversity that throws a real ‘spanner in the works’.  A decade on, I  had to deal with another bowel cancer operation, another heart attack, malignant melanoma and going permanently deaf in one ear.

Refocusing your vision can make all the difference.

If your vision or purpose for doing what you are doing becomes unclear, then adversity will start to destroy you. However, if you continuously keep your mission and vision in the forefront of your mind, then you will press through any adversity because you know that what you are doing in life is more significant than the present circumstances you are experiencing.

When I look back over my life and all the adversity, I sometimes think it must have been in my imagination how could I have possibly survived and thrived after all that? Well, I did, and I have had no regrets, as the learning and opportunities have been numerous.  There is always someone worse off than you, and as life won’t wait for you, you have to just get on with it.

Do something unexpected.

Challenge your team. Call a meeting and suggest a lousy idea. Suggest that you take a course of action the team should know wrong. If no one challenges you, you may have a much bigger problem on your hands. It will feel uncomfortable, but I have used it, and it helps your team feel safe discussing things that matter. More disturbing will be people who come to you and say what a smart idea it was because you reported it.

More disturbing will be people who come to you and say what a bright idea it was because you reported it. Look for people who know to question and challenge your thoughts before they become a problem. I can recall many occasions where people agreed with me because they knew I always did my homework.  The result, adversity often followed. It’s far better to have ‘no’ people, rather than ‘yes’ people around you.

How I overcame adversity

Adversities will always be a constant in our lives. At 72, I can say I have had to face more than my fair share of trouble. While I have had a very supportive family, I found the answer to overcoming adversity to be quite straightforward. Follow your passion and work to your strengths.  The most important thing to do is to stay healthy and never fear adversity. Adversity will come whether you like it or not and it will come as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow. By getting out of your comfort zone, understanding your passion and strengths, you can do something about it.

Firstly, some competitors will not take new competition too lightly. “It will be so easy to drive this new business out of town, they won’t last”, or they will say, “I’m not even going to try to change, or do anything differently”. Complacency, on their part, opens up the opportunities for you. It’s a loser’s attitude and a no-win situation when you play to complacency and maintain the status quo. Even if they do win a battle or two, there’s little to be gained. There are no learning experiences when you don’t have competition or surround yourself with people that push you to perform.

You don’t make many friends until they buy something from you.

You need to have external people who can provide objectivity and perspective and who are not afraid to question what you are doing. I was lucky in the early years because people were not intimidated by my age; everyone likes helping young people. The story changes with age.

Inspiring a service mentality into your people had a profound effect. Each tick on the clock changed their perception from “Can you do this?” to “You can do this” and beat the competition. “You are the best in your business, and you will remain so if you give good service”. Giant leaps forward occurred because I knew that only by taking employees out of their comfort zone and helping them to understand a strengths-based approach, could they see and reach their real potential. Money was never a real motivator, winning was. 

When you have a health problem, there is not much you can do about it but accept the situation and put yourself in the care of doctors and people you trust. Make sure you have insurance against adversity, never think it won’t happen to you. However, just because you have to accept it, it does not mean that you have to suffer. The more that you fight against something, the more you will lose. Adversity is something which will affect you at some point and something you need to come to terms with and ride out.

Use your strengths to overcome adversity, in fact, anything.

As hard as it may seem, adversity can be a positive thing. There is a saying that everything ‘happens for a reason’ and ‘whatever does not kill you makes you stronger’. That is undoubtedly true if you learn to look at adversity as a lesson instead of letting it drag us down. You can only come out of the experience more robust than before. The more adverse experiences you have, the stronger you become.

If there were no challenges in life, it would be boring. You would not overcome anything and would not feel the satisfaction of overcoming adversity. Whether you accept it or not, the difficulty can genuinely be a positive thing, and it can give you comfort as well as strength.

The reality is often hard for many people to accept. Close your eyes and imagine yourself building a better future, what do you see yourself doing and when would you like to do it. When you look at your current reality, do you feel something is missing in your life or are you always waiting for something to arrive? Check this blog; it’s about helping you have a reality check of your aspirations. It could help to avoid some of the adversity you are facing.

Never compromise your values.

Unfortunately, adversity is something which every single one of you has to go through at some point in your lives. It can hold you back, it can damage your motivation, and it can feel like you’re stuck in a terrible situation with no way out. A condition which can cause some people to compromise their values.

What are you made of really? When push comes to shove when the rubber meets the road, when the chips are down, what lies at the very core of your character? It is adversity which brings out the stuff you are made of. Sometimes your ethical values will be all you have left to start again.

Surround yourself with people who can help you through the tough times in your life. You were never meant to do everything by yourself; it’s too hard. You need to have people around you to encourage you. Isolating yourself in times of adversity is one of the worst things that you can do as it can quickly lead to compromising what you want and your values.

Start-ups fail all too often, and the failure rate is far too high because of the adversity they created themselves. Many people in start-ups are drowning in self-pity and buckling under the strain of debt. It is usually because of their business idea, in reality, was built on exaggeration, or inflated expectations and nil profit. Be sure you’re not overlooking the fundamentals before investing in a business in haste and leaving yourself open to adversity, Don’t give up a salary to fulfil a dream, for the wrong reasons. It is when you put yourself in adverse situations where you could be tempted to compromise your values.

Simple processes can overcome adversity.

The answer is simple. You must put yourself in situations where you have to play up a level, surround yourself with positive people who will push you to your peak performance and help you overcome any adversity as it comes along.

The starting point in dealing with any adversity is merely to relax and clear your mind. Get yourself into a state of calm, in full control of your emotions and senses, and then become as objective as possible. Step back and look at the problem with a certain amount of detachment (as if it were happening to someone else). When you can analyse your adversity clearly, you will often see opportunities to turn to your best advantage.

You can usually overcome adversity by following a simple four-step process.

Dale Carnegie wrote about it, and it’s still one of the most powerful mental tools that anyone can use when confronted with adversity:

  1. Define the problem clearly. What exactly is the problem? What exactly are your worries? Write out the definition of your problem. Make sure it’s a single problem. If it’s more than one problem, write out clear descriptions which together constitute what you are worried about.
  2. Determine the worst possible outcome. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst possible thing that can happen in this situation?” Be frank and honest with yourself. You might lose your money, or your relationship, or your customer, or someone or something else that is important to you. If everything fell apart, what is the worst thing that could occur?
  3. Resolve to accept the worst, should it occur. Having identified the worst possible outcome, you now can go through the mental exercise of accepting it is going to happen, no matter what you do. The remarkable thing is that as soon as you stop resisting the worst possible outcome, you’ll relax, your mind will clear, and your ability to deal with the situation will improve dramatically. Even in the worst of circumstances, you can develop the power to win.
  4. Begin immediately to improve upon the worst, which you have already accepted is going to happen. Throw all of your mental resources into it, to minimise the problem or resolve the difficulty. Concentrate on the future and possible positive outcomes. Don’t worry about what happened, why it happened and who was responsible. Think only about the question, “What do I do now?” How can you minimise the consequences? What are the steps you can take, starting with the first one, no matter how small?

Adversity could be shrouding a great opportunity.

When someone offers you a terrifyingly tricky opportunity, volunteer, raise your hand when the committee asks for volunteers to lead a group through a monumental task, this allows you to have practice at handling stressful situations and educating yourself. Put yourself out there and reap the rewards. Find your opportunity to play to your strengths. Get out of your comfort zone and seek to be pushed to the potential you are capable of achieving. It’s the only way to know what indeed resides inside of you.

Build a better network of people that you spend the most time with, surround yourself with the best. Increase your batting average, Find opportunities which challenge and even terrify you. It will force you to work to your strengths and bring out the best in everyone involved as your confidence grows you will learn how to work to your strengths in very creative ways, teaching you many valuable lessons about business and life.

Adversity can be avoided and overcome by changing a few habits.

You now live in a time of unprecedented change where disruptions and risks abound. They are the only things that you can predict for sure as things will become even more unpredictable. You need to find the good in everything that happens to you. 

Everything that you go through in life has value to it. It may not always seem like it because all you can remember is the pain or hurt you’ve experienced. Y you are not the only one facing adversity. There are thousands of people who are going through the same types of situations that you are going through. Some handle it better than others.

The things which you learn from your adversity can help others get through their difficult circumstances. Many times you can even turn what you have learned into a profitable business.

Today, an entirely new set of success skills are needed to get ahead in the new environments and develop the future you want, and this means changing a few habits. Following are some good habits you can apply to continuously propel yourself into the future and stay ahead of the pack, regardless of what the future brings.

Develop your planning skills.

Planning is arguably the most critical task in any business. Create Business Models, Business Plans and Budgets which work well for you all day, every day. Start with a One-Page Business plan,

Set more realistic goals.

Writing down a few measurable milestones can help to keep you focused and motivated. Pick a few big targets that are important to you and focus on them one at a time.

Seek external objectivity.

Without external advisors, you are at risk. You need a good dose of objectivity and perspective; it sure beats believing in your own understanding.

Start working to your strengths.

It is your strengths that drive the business. So, it makes sense to build upon them rather than wasting time trying to overcome your weaknesses.

Take a few more risks.

Recognising that change is inevitable and disruptions will occur, you should make smart, calculated, and affordable risks that move you closer to achieving your goals and overcoming adversity.

Become irreplaceable.

Seek training, skills, capabilities, and insights that are hard for people to find, you might even become a thought leader, and customers will start to see you and keep your business going in a positive direction.

Know your industry.

Take time to know your industry better than anyone else. You can then spot the best opportunities coming down the track and avoid the mistakes that lead to adversity.

Continually grow and improve.

Make personal development an ongoing imperative, for yourself and all staff. New information and knowledge are what keeps a business moving with the times, avoiding costly mistakes and finding better opportunities.

Create a productive working environment.

Reassess your environment from the appearance of premises to equipment and space allocation, so essential to productivity.

Create your opportunities.

If you’re not on the field, you are not in the game. Relying on luck is a failed strategy. Great opportunities are more plentiful than ever before. Keep your eyes wide open and be receptive to things you may not have seen before.

Achieve more each day.

Become action orientated. Stay focused on what is important to you and your business and delegate the rest. Link your strategies to your available assets.

Reinvent yourself and your business.

Set a goal to excel in an essential and worthwhile new area and find innovative ways to leverage what you learn along the way.

Take time to understand technology.

Technology in every field is still getting faster, easier and cheaper, and your competitors are probably using it already. Advanced manufacturing and advanced business utilise all the technologies available to them to improve their outcomes and customer experiences.

Take time to understand social media.

Business is very different today, and understanding social media is an essential aspect of building a good future.

Go above and beyond.

In a world of infinite competition, where thousands of others possess the same attributes, going beyond what is expected, usually wins out in the long run.

Go out on a limb.

Maintaining the status quo while times, trends, and competitors are evolving isn’t a recipe for success. If you don’t seek better ways of doing things, you will never find them.

Try something new.

Learn a new skill, try a new approach or just do something entirely different; it helps you to step away from the same old ideas and think more creatively.

Measure what you manage.

Technology in analytics is now well advanced and cheap, so you can stop stumbling in the dark. You need to know what is working and what is not.

Everyone wants to win.

Get in the habit of having little wins and work your way up. Don’t forget to celebrate your successes as you move forward.


We all have bad habits, but some are worse than others. Maybe it’s time to make some choices?

Quotable quotes

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realise it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you”. Walt Disney

“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit”. Napoleon Hill

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.