Adversity: An Invitation to Great Things


Warren Macdonald climbing

Nobody welcomes adversity into their lives. Sooner or later though, we all face it. What helps someone carry on despite adversity?

Warren Macdonald

Several years ago I listened to Warren Macdonald speak at the Mountain Book Festival in Banff about an event that forever changed his life. In April 1997 he went on a backpacking trip in Australia and became trapped under an enormous boulder for two agonizing days. Water almost drowned him, ants crawled over him, and he hoped beyond all hope that the guy he had met only the day before would be able to get help for him in time.

It took 3 hours for the rescuers to get the boulder off Warren. Once he was flown to the hospital he learned he would have to have his legs amputated above the knee. His life was irrevocably changed.

Amazingly, he found “opportunity in adversity.” Within 10 months he resumed hiking and climbing. Eventually he hiked to the top of Kiliminjaro, began ice-climbing, and even climbed El Capitan. Despite incredible obstacles, he lives life on his terms. He not only survived his ordeal, he now works as a motivational speaker for corporate groups.

Erik Weihenmayer

I also heard Erik speak at the Mountain Book Festival. He is a blind man who lost his vision at age 13. Like Warren, he persevered and turned adversity into a challenging adventure. He became the only blind man to ever climb to the summit of Mount Everest. Besides being a good climber, he paraglides and skies, and for a time was an elementary school teacher.

Erik has some important things to say about adversity:

“Adversity is personal, relative, and universal.”

Each of us is faced with adversity and it doesn’t matter how big or small it seems to the outside world. What matters is how we choose not only to face it, but what we choose to do with it.

“Adversity is the most potent force in life. It shapes your character, clarifies your priorities, and defines your path. It can also fuel your greatness.”

Fueling Your Greatness

That’s a really potent idea: adversity can fuel your greatness. How can you play a poor hand well? What do you do to move past adversity, or to carry on despite it? Will you let it define everything about you or do you want to choose how you’re defined?

Can you set goals when adversity rears it’s ugly head? Can you decide how it’s going to shape your character? Do you think Warren and Erik decided to be identified solely by their disabilities or did they carve out their lives despite them? How might you use their examples as inspiration to deal with adversities that come your way?

I’m not suggesting it’s easy. We all know it’s not. I also know though that adversity can challenge us to be and do more. It can challenge us to create life the way we want to create it, even when, or especially when, others are telling us it can’t be done!

As Helen Keller once said:

“Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.”

What do you choose your life to be? What can you do to find the opportunities in adversity? I’d love to hear your comments!!