Making Peace with Adversity

I love watching the Olympics. Everything in my household stops when the games are on. The computer plays the live feed nearly 18 hours a day (from 6 am to midnight) – whether I am in the office or at home. I really can’t get enough of the drama and human stories. The 2016 Rio Games have been no different for me. This year a major Canadian sport retailer chain used the hashtag #WhatItTakes to describe the journey that our country men and women take for his or her opportunity to attend and perform in this celebrated contest of human capacity. This slogan resonated deeply for me. I thought, "Yes. That is what I love about the Olympic Games --- it is the story of #WhatItTakes!”.

On a less emotional level, I know that the Olympics is simply another sport event that just happens rarely (i.e., every four years). People seem to highly value this particular sport event in that for many sports it is the only time their sport is showcased or even celebrated. When you measure what a human body (and mind) can accomplish every four years, the growth is tremendous. It is fun to watch record after record break, the intricacies and difficulty levels of routines evolve, and marvel at the new technologies developed to capture performance.

Adversity is part of this growth. Each athlete has his or her own unique journey of challenge and adversity. I firmly believe that adversity is necessary (evil?) for growth to occur. Without challenge, without pushing boundaries (both physically and mentally) we do not change or grow. Though I believe this truth, I don’t like it. I fear adversity. It is painful! I fear adversity because in adversity I am not in control, and I am not sure what the future will hold.

It helps me to better accept this when I can break it down. What is adversity to me? It is simply an event that I didn’t plan for; that I didn’t expect to happen for me and thus, didn’t prepare myself for. It is something that I might require more skills or capacity to manage appropriately, but ultimately, adversity is NOT something that can BREAK me. It is a teaching tool assisting me to learn more about myself and develop what I can do.

I am moved by the stories of others (not just Olympians) who have faced and even embraced adversity and used it to evolve into a better version of themselves. It inspires me. I know that if others can get through their adversity, I can too.

As I watched the live Canadian feed (thank you CBC for an amazing broadcast!), the same sport retailer chain with the #WhatItTakes campaign put out a series of ads labeled Olympic Manifesto – Final Verse using video of Canadian athletes’ Olympic performances and the powerful spoke word of Shayne Koyczan. The combination was captivating and it provided me with water cooler material with friends, family, and colleagues. I commented on the visuals recalling the memory of what I had felt watching the actual event unfold in the days prior. At times I found myself commenting about my frustrations with the ad in that an image of a particular performance was used to depict adversity when in that very moment, for that individual athlete, it was success. I was frustrated that the ad showed Canadians suffering when I knew that we were winning more medals than we had ever done before at a summer games. Paraphrasing the words of 2016 Olympic medalist swimmer, Hilary Caldwell, the podium is something that ‘normal’. Isn’t that #WhatItTakes? That is, the belief in ourselves that we belong on the podium and the images of others being on the podium? At times, all I could see in the ad was the image of pain and adversity rather than the joy and success. I felt that I was watching failure when there was clearly so much to be celebrated in the Canadian’s performances at these recent games.

But then I realized that is the story of #WhatItTakes. In Canada’s pursuit to ‘Own the Podium’, in the pursuit of personal excellence, adversity is part of the story. Adversity is a MAJOR part of our excellence and what is experienced emotionally deepest. Adversity is #WhatItTakes. I’m recognizing that growth is occurring in the moments of adversity even when I don’t feel it. And if adversity is #WhatItTakes, I can accept that.