The importance of adversity

 

As I write, I’m watching a documentary titled The Edge, on a plane. It’s about the quest of the England cricket team to reach world number one ranking, from an all-time low of seventh. Under the leadership of ex-Zimbabwe star Andy Flower, they managed this feat. One of the pivotal moments was when the team were taken – just before the 2010/11 Ashes series in Australia – on a training camp to the Bavarian woods. It looked pretty brutal.

In slushy snow they were forced to endure a military-style regime of treks, endurance testing, pack-bearing runs, sleep deprivation and relentless physical endeavour. But this ‘pointless pain’ – it seemed far-removed from the goal of actually playing better cricket – brought the side together emotionally and mentally. It taught them something valuable, and forged a unity and toughness that ultimately helped them to succeed in their goal. Talent alone isn’t enough in a team sport, even a strange team sport like cricket where individuals often have to perform alone in pursuit of team success.

It made me think about the important role of adversity in forging character, and consequently success. Most of the time, we try to avoid adversity: it would be a strange person indeed who actually sought it out. But, unless we are particularly good at avoiding it, and a little lucky, adversity will appear in our lives uninvited. Then we should recognize that contrary to all appearances, it can be our friend.

One of the problems we face is that often, as we achieve some success in life, and if we are smart and resourceful, then we become quite good at avoiding adversity. But this is not entirely a positive thing, although it certainly seems like it at the time. Unless our journey involves a few hill climbs, long days on the path, a bit of challenging weather, and the odd wrong turn, then we become soft, entitled and we lose our edge.

We don’t want to achieve all our dreams. They need to remain a little out of reach, so that we keep pressing forward. We have small victories along the way, but always we are pressing forward, and always we are having to struggle a little, and face a degree of adversity. Recognizing this sets us free to enjoy the journey, and if we are smart, we realize that it is all about the journey, and we begin to live in the moment more, we become nicer people, and we experience (from time to time) true fulfilment and happiness. People who are resourced, lucky and smart enough to remove all adversity from their lives often become soft, selfish and uninteresting, and unfulfilled and unhappy on a deep level.

So, I’m beginning to think this is true: comfort seems our friend, but it’s actually an untrustworthy acquaintance. Is there a parallel in wine? Perhaps it’s the fact that if a vine is well nourished and given all the nutrients and water that it needs, it will not make grapes that then produce interesting wine.

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