The older I get and the more I work with people the more I am convinced of the importance and value of adversity. What I mean by adversity is we have opportunities to face difficult challenges on our journey through life. Unfortunately, what I witness over and over again is that we as a society are determined to avoid those difficult challenges. We do not want to deal with adversity. It appears that we are looking for the easiest path to personal success and fulfillment. So; my first question in this article is, ‘why do we avoid adversity?
Why we avoid Adversity
There are a number of reasons that we avoid adversity. Here are a few;
- Adversity reminds us of past failures and pain.
We have all experienced events in our lives that have been painful. Maybe we have attempted to step up and face a difficult challenge, hoping that it would be an opportunity to prove what we can do and show the world what we are capable of, only to fail in our attempt.
When I was seven or eight years old my mom asked me if I wanted to take piano lessons. I foolishly thought sure, why not, sounds like fun. I could become a rock star. Of course, I did not take into account how important it was for me to practice daily so that I was prepared to face my piano teacher ready to impress her with my progress. Well, I did not love to practice. I was a very active child who did not want to be stuck indoors after school practicing piano. I just wanted to get together with my friends and play baseball or soccer. So, I did not practice my piano. This meant that I would absolutely dread my weekly piano lesson as my teacher would get angry at me and scold me about not practicing. I would sit on that stool on occasion and cry through most of my lesson, feeling like a failure. I can remember some of those feelings as if they occurred just yesterday. I have a vague memory of playing at my first piano recital and freezing at the keyboard not able to play a note. The experiences I had with my piano teacher had broken my confidence and my spirit. I was convinced that I would never be a musician. Amazingly, I continued to take lessons for another six years never excelling at playing piano.
- Adversity triggers feelings that we do not want to revisit.
We avoid so many challenges in our lives because of the emotional discomfort they trigger in us. All motivation is attached to a feeling and if that feeling is potentially painful, I do not want to do it. This is the heart of avoidance behavior.
As I grew into my teen years I developed a true love for music. I began to attend some amazing rock concerts in the seventies and was so impressed by the musicians that played in those bands. When I was sixteen a friend of mine approached me to play in a band. He knew that I had taken years of piano lessons and thought I could play well enough to join him. My first response was to think ‘wow’ how cool would that be. My second response was one of dread and resignation. The thought of playing in front of people brought back all the old painful feelings of freezing on my piano stool not able to play a note. I immediately declined my friends offer without even trying. To this day I am conscious of the fact that fear is the emotion that has sabotaged every profound opportunity to experience my hopes and dreams. It has at times kept me from facing the necessary adversity to experience those dreams.
- Adversity reinforces our shadow beliefs
Once our painful feelings hijack our ability to face a difficult challenge our shadow beliefs kick in to high gear and tell us we are incapable of facing pretty much any kind of adversity. Those thoughts and beliefs tell me that it is not okay to engage in any activity that will expose my incompetence. I will fail at what I am trying to accomplish, look like a fool and people will judge me as a loser. Ultimately the constant exchange between my shadow beliefs and painful emotions develops a habit of avoidance behavior. And, avoidance behavior can shrink your world to the point where you are incapable of participating in almost an activity that triggers emotion of any kind.
Some of the feelings I experienced when I was seven as a piano student exploded a few years later when my father died. I transferred feelings of dread and doom into a full scale anxiety disorder. I was so afraid of my thoughts and feelings that I spent almost an entire year in a rocking chair at home not wanting to go anywhere or see anyone. At that point I wasn’t going to face adversity of any kind; I was unwilling to face life.
So; those are some of the reasons that I chose to transform some painful experiences into a life of avoiding adversity and difficult challenges. However, that is not the end of the story.
In my next article, I want to talk about the value of facing adversity and the difficult challenges of our lives. Our willingness to do so is what breaks the back of our fears and releases our confidence. It is what develops the internal qualities necessary to realize all my hopes and dreams. It is the behavior that is an absolute game changer. My willingness to face adversity and the fears that were triggered by that adversity is what completely changed my life. Allow me to give you an example of what I am talking about as it relates to Valentine’s Day today.
A Valentine’s Day Victory Story
As I have discussed through this entire article, my ability to face difficulty and adversity was profoundly impacted by my experiences learning the piano. I experienced feelings and beliefs at that time that shut me down profoundly from playing the piano publicly. In my article next week I will talk about how I overcame those beliefs and feelings by facing my fears of performing publicly. Eventually I transferred what I learned on the piano to playing the guitar. Since learning how to play the guitar I have performed in front of thousands of people; I have led my own band, played in prisons, played and sang my own composition at a wedding, played at a funeral and recorded my own music in a sound studio.
One of the performances that I am most proud of and continue today (later today on Valentines Day) is to play and sing a love song for Christine. I can say with certainty that I do not have a terrific singing voice but I am not afraid to use it. And, none of these musical accomplishments would have happened if I wasn’t at some point willing to face the adversity of my thoughts and beliefs and choose to do the hard thing. I hope you will find a way to do the same to realize your hopes and dreams.