Humans have a fundamental need to avoid risk and overcome adversity for survival. We try our best to prevent failure, disappointments or uncomfortable situations, from dodging critical feedback at work to shielding our children from scraped knees. But falling down and learning from our mistakes can actually be the most rewarding outcome, and when we avoid adversity, we can miss out on the life-changing experiences that fuel success.
So, what’s the secret to leveraging hardships into success instead of letting fear of failure or adversity hold you back? Here are five practices of successful people who utilize adversity to their advantage:
1. They welcome adversity
The most highly successful people don’t overcome adversity — they embrace it! They realize that becoming a wiser, more evolved version of ourselves is a gift, not an obstacle to overcome.
Think about a time in your life when you experienced the most rewarding personal or professional growth. Did you grow when things were going smoothly? Did your skills improve when you were already firing on all cylinders? Did you develop into the best version of yourself when everything was going your way? Probably not. If you’re anything like me, you experienced the greatest advancement of character and ability during times of adversity, when you faced difficult challenges and emerged stronger, savvier, and more resilient as a result.
My mother died four years ago. It was absolutely one of the most painful times in my life, but it also made me realize something: Life is going to happen no matter what. You can either waste your time avoiding it — not taking risks, not innovating, not going for the next challenge — or you can choose to meet those challenges head on and grow. By reframing difficulties as an opportunity rather than as a burden, you can lean in to risk and push yourself to evolve.
2. They make bold moves
Once you learn to shift your mindset, it’s time to start making the kind of bold moves that separate high achievers from the rest. A recent study from the CEO Genome Project found that, while it takes an average of 24 years to ascend to the position of CEO, those who take more risks get there in nearly half the amount of time.
By removing your fear of potential disappointment or failure, you can make the daring decisions that power high performance and success. Raise your hand in a meeting. Launch a new company. Speak up. Rise to the top!
3. They trust in positive outcomes
I have a tattoo of a bird with a phrase my mother taught me: “The bird does not fear the branch breaking beneath her feet for she trusts her wings.” It not only honors her memory, it inspires me to dare greatly every day.
People who leverage adversity into success trust that, while they’re making bold moves, they will have the skills, support and resources to succeed. This isn’t egotistical, but rather a belief in their own abilities, and the abilities of those around them, to push through challenges and achieve a desired outcome. Without trusting that your endeavors will have a positive result, it’s impossible to fully commit to achieving your goals.
4. They develop skills and practices that support growth
High achievers develop internal skills and practices to achieve external results. The first is cultivating a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset — believing your intelligence or abilities can be developed versus set in stone. Those with a growth mindset “enjoy challenges, strive to learn, and consistently see potential to develop new skills,” enabling them to persevere in the face of adversity.
They also form deep, solid relationships. Research shows that a strong social support system is even more critical than individual traits in determining our resilience. The connections we make with our professional network, friends, family, and community provide the encouragement, positive feelings, and sense of purpose that support resiliency.
A third skill is honing emotional intelligence, the awareness of your own emotions and those of the people around you. A study of Indian managers found that EI plays a significant role in the ability to deal with adversity, especially through self-awareness and self-regulation. Developing your EI will allow you to calmly assess challenging situations and conceptualize how you’re going to change in the future.
5. They learn and adapt
Finally, high-achievers may make mistakes, but they always learn, adapt, and eventually succeed — they don’t endlessly make the same mistakes. That’s the ultimate benefit of developing this mindset: the ability to learn, adapt and grow into the most high-performing version of yourself.
Accept that things are going to go wrong in life and it’s going to be hard — that’s unavoidable. But if you can develop the skills to spread your wings when the branch breaks, you’ll keep flying no matter what.