Feb 26, 2010

Adversity is just change we haven't adapted ourselves to yet

These past few weeks have been dark and uncertain ones. Things haven't been working out for me. The storm has been raging on relentlessly. No economic recovery in the forecast for Spain. My boat (teaching hours) has holes which I patch up only to have new leaks appear. The wolves have gathered by the shore. Sinking seems a real threat and I'm having trouble making ends meet. My mind has been racing around contingency plans and I've been plotting and rowing towards new growth. As I struggle to adapt to all this change, one of the inspirations I've been using to keep from drowning is a quote I wrote on a yellow post it note last week and stuck to the wall above my macbook.

It reads: "Adversity is just change we haven't adapted ourselves to yet."

Some weeks ago I watched a passionate talk by Aimee Mullins, a woman who was born without shin bones. Instead of allowing this early adversity to relegate her to the sidelines of life, she became a record-breaker at the Paralympic Games in 1996, and has built a career as a model, actor and activist for women, sports and the next generation of prosthetics. She compares her designer prosthetic legs to designer eyeglasses - she wore 4-inch stiletto heels during her TedMed talk!
Today I'd like to share her inspiring talk about finding opportunities in adversity.

Excerpts of Aimee's talk, transcribed by me:
"The human ability to adapt is our greatest asset...people continually ask me about overcoming adversity and I'm gonna make an admission, this phrase never sat right with me and I always felt uneasy trying to answer people's questions about it and I think I'm starting to figure out why. Implicit in this phrase of overcoming adversity is the idea that success or happiness is about emerging on the other side of a challenging experience unscathed or unmarked by the experience. As if my successes in life have come about from an ability to sidestep and circumnavigate the pitfalls of a life with prosthetics which people perceive as my disability. But in fact we are changed. We are marked, of course, by a challenge whether physically, emotionally or both and I'm gonna suggest that this is a good thing. Adversity isn't an obstacle we need to get around in order to resume living our life. It's part of our life and I tend to think of it like my shadow, sometimes I see a lot of it and sometimes there's very little but it's always with me. Certainly, I'm not trying to diminish the impact, the weight of a person's struggle. There is adversity and challenge in life and it's all very real and relative to every single person but the question isn't whether or not you're going to meet adversity but how you're going to meet it. Our responsibility is not simply to shield those we care for from adversity but preparing them to meet it well...

There is a partnership between those perceived deficiencies and our greatest creative ability. So it's not about devaluing or negating these more trying times as something we want to avoid or sweep under the rug but instead to find those opportunities wrapped in the adversity. So maybe the idea I want to put out there is not so much overcoming adversity as it is opening ourselves up to it, embracing it, grappling with it (to use a wrestling term), maybe even dancing with it. And perhaps if we see adversity as natural, consistent and useful, we're less burdened by the presence of it...

Conflict is the genesis of creation...the human ability to survive and flourish is driven by the struggle of the human spirit through conflict into transformation. So again transformation, adaptation is our greatest human skill. And perhaps until we're tested we don't know what we're made of. Maybe that's what adversity gives us, a sense of self, a sense of our own power. So we can give ourselves a gift, we can re-imagine adversity as something more than tough times. Maybe we can see it as change. Adversity is just change we haven't adapted ourselves to yet. I think the greatest adversity we've created for ourselves is this idea of normalcy. I mean who is normal? There is no normal. There's common, there's typical, but there's no normal and would you want to meet that poor beige person if they existed? I don't think so." Aimee Mullins

While I was slowly transcribing (due to my poor typing skills) these bits that resonated most for me, her words had time to sink in deep. I've decided to take her advice to heart and give myself a gift; the gift of a dance with adversity. As I write this, I'm tossing away my old metaphors of the leaky boat, wolves and bad weather; I'm instead imagining myself in a tight tango to the tune of Por una Cabeza.

Thanks Aimee for being an amazing woman of great spirit.

How will you re-imagine your adversity today?


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