Overcoming Adversity

During his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple and Pixar) shared this piece of advice:

“ . . . you can’t connect the dots [of your life] looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

I don’t know about you, but when I think back to my days as a recent college graduate, I remember that it wasn’t always easy to trust that things will somehow work out—and that the dots that make up our lives will eventually connect and lead to something larger.

When faced with adversity—whether it’s a failed job interview, a challenging project at work, or a personal setback, it’s tempting to give up. It seems easier to play it safe and avoid taking risks or chances. And it’s easy to look at someone like Steve Jobs and think, “Sure. Connect the dots. Easy for you to say. You created Pixar!”

But what we often fail to realize—especially during hard times—is that all successful people have suffered major setbacks. Every billionaire entrepreneur, tech innovator, entertainer, and pro athlete has had moments when they were ready to give up. They have all faced some form of adversity in their lives: Perhaps it was the loss of a parent at a young age or a major financial loss. Or a natural disaster. Maybe it was an illness, an injury, or a disability. Steve Jobs, for example, struggled with dyslexia before becoming one of the most successful people in the country.

In my opinion, the challenges we face are exactly the things that help us succeed. Adversity is the fertilizer that helps grow new possibilities and opportunities. When things are going well in our lives, we have a tendency to get complacent, sloppy, and/or lazy (both mentally and physically). We develop a false sense of security.

I encourage you to take a moment and connect your own dots. If you take an opportunity to look back on your life, what are some of your greatest achievements and successes? What makes you proud? Now, look back at what happened before those great achievements and successes. I’m willing to bet that many, if not all, were preceded by a struggle of some kind. If you’re like most people, the great “dots” of your life are connected by a series of challenges and setbacks.

It is through our difficulties that we grow and become a better version of ourselves. The Roman poet, Horace (the son of a former slave) said it best:

“Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”

When bad or difficult times come your way, it’s okay to get mad, sad, frustrated, or upset. Feel those emotions to their fullest and then get over yourself. Believe that these “negative” dots will connect you to a bigger and brighter future.