When Adversity Strikes, What Do You Do?



Resilience is suddenly everywhere. Flying London to San Francisco, I found the words “resilient” or “resilience” 13 times. And I was hardly trying. RESILIENT. In the stores, I found “resilient” or “resilience” on woman’s clothing labels, kid’s toy packaging, sports gear, even a perfume bottle. While scouring five different publications on the flight, I found it describing everything from banished refugees, sport teams, financial markets and products, to leaders, children, communities, even drug lords and the Taliban. It’s as if “resilient” has morphed from an adjective to the defining virtue.

So yes. Resilience is hot.

It’s also timeless. All our core stories are about what happens when human beings and adversity collide. From those moments tragedies unravel and greatness is spawned. Adversity both destroys and elevates. It both strangles and sparks life.

As a real estate investor, it’s important to ask, what is your relationship with adversity? What role has it played in becoming who you are, in forging your essential character and mindset? How has it influenced your optimism, energy, opportunities, relationships, health, performance, capacity, and leaps of faith? How has it influenced your stick-to-it-ness in real estate investing? Can you think of any force that has been more profoundly formative?

Here’s just one relevant example as you ponder the role resiliency plays for you, your investing, and your people. PEAK Learning measured the resilience of 1,600 people in the UK to see how resiliency stacked up against these factors: happiness; quality of life; exercise; diet; energy; optimism; engagement at work; sick days; and a broad range of health factors. Resilience was statistically significant in predicting not one or two, but all of these factors.

Through my past three decades of research on the subject, I’ve learned something shockingly simple: It comes down to one of two things. Over the course of your years, either adversity consumes you, or you consume it. Unfortunately, being consumed by adversity is far more common than truly consuming it.

Ready for a challenge? Rate yourself on this Adversity Continuum:

1. Avoiding Adversity — Do you ever postpone, delegate, ignore, or sidestep a difficulty that you could or should have taken on? Do you know a vacancy is looming but do nothing to prepare for it until you are forced to do so? Do you wait for the headlines on an economic meltdown, when you saw the storm clouds coming months ahead of time?

2. Surviving Adversity — Sometimes coming out of a given setback or tragedy alive is a major victory. But, no matter how bad it was/is, life quickly asks, “Now what?” or “What do we do now? Did you get through the recent recession, but just barely – not making any money but not packing it all in? Are you among the group that says, “Well, we’re still here!”

3. Coping with Adversity — How much energy do you expend just keeping your head above water, or coping with your daily dose of adversity? Do you find your time and energy disproportionately consumed by the headaches and hassles of owning and pursuing properties?

4. Managing Adversity — Beyond coping, how often do you at least do something positive with the adversity? Were you able to take some advantage of the rough times to at least raise the rents on a couple of properties and put a bit of extra money in your jeans?

5. Harnessing Adversity — How often do you use the adversity to achieve gains you could never enjoy without it? How many moments do you have, when, like an alchemist you convert adversity into fuel that propels you to a place you could never get to without it? Were you able to harness the fear that everyone in the industry was feeling and turn it into your advantage by buying properties at below average prices and turning the adversity into a major financial boon?

I’ve surveyed more than 1,000 companies in 53 countries with these questions. And the sad truth is, most (70-90 percent) of the time, people do some combination of avoiding, surviving, and coping – meaning adversity is consuming them. About 10-30 percent of the time, people will manage the adversity. Very rarely (five percent) do people and their enterprises truly harness it.

The ultimate state of zen-like resilience perfection is something I call, “Response Ability,” which I define as, “Your ability to respond optimally to whatever happens the moment it strikes.” Think of the greatness being ever-more Response Able could help you accomplish in your real estate investing career, not to mention the rest of your life. That means naturally harnessing the force of adversity provides to fuel a deeply enriching and rewarding life. This is the highest aspiration.

How much does it matter? Beyond resilience, what other factor could have a more profound effect on both your short and long- term success?

Adversity is not going away any time soon. It is the core human drama. It’s the core of your drama, and if harnessed with superior resilience, it could be the fuel cell of your success.

Dr. Paul G. Stoltz is CEO of PEAK Learning, Inc., Chairman of the Global Resilience Institute, and the originator of the Adversity Quotient (AQ) theory and method, currently used within Harvard Business School’s Executive Education and MBA programs.

Updated from the original, published on Harvard Business Review Blog Network July 7, 2010.


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