How to Overcome Workplace Adversity: Use a Setback as a Learning Opportunity

At some point in our lives, all of us will face some kind of adversity. Adversity can be caused by an incident, a circumstance, a moment, or a life-changing event. Challenging, stressful situations can be debilitating—however, they can also be an opportunity to grow and thrive. Whether it’s triggered by a traumatic event or small uncomfortable circumstance, adverse situations affect everyone’s lives, and it’s not uncommon to face adversity in the workplace. Workplace adversity comes in various shapes, forms, and sizes, but the most common occurrences generally fit into these three categories:
  • Emotional adversity— When you’re feeling confused or conflicted in your role at the office, it’s easy to feel emotionally drained and unstable. Maybe your new boss is giving you hard assignments that don’t set you up for success. Or you are assigned to a new project, and you don't understand how it is going to work or what your role is going to be. Or you’re continuously butting heads with a colleague that causes you stress or discomfort.
  • Physical adversity—Physical adversity affects your body’s normal functions, either brought on to you intentionally or unintentionally. You’re in a car accident and can no longer do the heavy lifting that your job entails. You’re in a disagreement with a colleague that gets physical. You’ve fallen ill and found it hard to stay on top of your responsibilities as work piles up.
  • Financial adversity— Financial adversity is personal stress driven by money. Your boss didn’t give you that raise or bonus you were expecting. You’re underperforming and got a demotion. You’re feeling the pressure to provide for your family or pay off your student loans, but your current salary does not support your financial needs.
Do any of these situations sound familiar? Though there’s no pattern for exactly where and when adversity will show up in your life, most employees will experience tough situations in the work environment. So when you’re facing adversity, how can overcome a hardship and come out on top? Here are some recommendations for effectively tackling an adverse situation you may face in your daily job.  

 1.   Lean on your network.

What kind of community do you have that can depend on for support? Do you have a mentor that you can openly talk to about the problem? Start by identifying someone that you trust and that you feel comfortable talking to about the challenge. Whether that's your family, your co-worker, your friends, your spouse, your dad, or your kids, you should have a support network both inside and outside of work. Reach out to a few individuals that you have a good relationship with and go to them for advice. Look inside your company for opportunities and mentorship programs. A lot of times, if your mentor can't help you directly, they may have a connection who can point you in the right direction for resources.

 2.   Shift your mindset.

An important step in overcoming any kind of adversity is to mentally prepare yourself. Remember that all of us face challenges. It’s up to you to decide how you want to respond. Focus your energy on keeping a positive mindset and believe in yourself. When tough situations come into your life, do a quick mental check: How are you handling these challenging situations? Are you reacting or are you responding? Acknowledge any negative thoughts and attitudes, reflect, and refocus. Be mindful, notice your breathing, and even try meditation to prepare yourself to face these situations. Often times when you shift the way you view a situation and begin to think about the positive side of your tough circumstance, there will be something good and rewarding that will come out of it. Though you can't see it right now, sooner or later it will show up.

 3.   Give 100%.

To be successful in any relationship, people usually say that the amount of effort required is 50/50: you give your 50 percent and you expect the other person to meet you halfway and give you 50 percent back. In reality, when you put in your 50 percent of effort and find that the other individual doesn't give that back, the chances of that relationship surviving are gone. It’s time to change your attitude, own the relationship, and make it successful on your terms. Instead of putting in half of the effort and waiting for the other to return, give your 100 percent and expect nothing. When the other individual you’re working with sees that you are giving your 100 percent, they will start giving their 100 percent too.

Have you heard the story of the carrot, egg, and coffee bean?

Imagine this: There’s a pot of boiling water. What happens when you put the carrots in the boiling water? They become soft. Just like when facing an adverse situation, some individuals instantly react and become soft. When you put an egg in that boiling water, it becomes hard on the outside but soft on the inside. Some people react this way when facing a tough situation in their life. It's easy to break them. But, what happens when you put a coffee bean in that water? A coffee bean mixes with that boiling water and gives you that nice aroma. It adapts, it combines, and it becomes coffee. Whenever adverse situations happen in your life, you have a choice. What do you want to become? You can become a carrot, you can become an egg, or you have a choice to become a bean. How do you respond to those situations?  

About the Author:
Saby Waraich PMP, CSM is a motivational speaker, mentor, and senior technology leader in Portland, OR. After experiencing physical adversity in his workplace, Saby overcame an array of repercussions through the recovery process, from time in the E.R., to post-trauma stress, to a subsequent brain tumor diagnosis. Through his experience in his work and personal life, Saby has grown to become a strong leader, a reliable mentor, and an even better human.


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