How often do you allow adversity to strengthen you?

Today is June 3 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you allow adversity to strengthen you?” American poet, singer, memoirist, and civil rights activist Maya Angelou wrote “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”


As you travel your path of navigating the chaos and practice the art of living well, sometimes adversity is the result of someone else. Perhaps a manager, colleague, or business partner intentionally throws a roadblock along your path. You then need to figure out a way over, through or around such a hurdle. Other times, however, life situations happen unexpectedly, and adversity comes out of nowhere through no one’s fault. Today’s Navigate the Chaos entry includes examples from both scenarios.


Professional baseball player Rick Ankiel used his adversity to help him navigate the chaos. Ankiel, was named High School Player of the Year and Minor League Player of the Year and was called, "the most promising young left-handed pitcher in a generation," by The New York Times Magazine. St. Louis Cardinals head coach Tony La Russa picked him to play in the first game of the National League division series against the Atlanta Braves at 21 years of age.


But in that series Ankiel threw nine wild pitches and walked 11 batters in just four innings. Ankiel had lost his pitching skills. Unbeknownst to him at the time, Ankiel was suffering from yips. Yips is the loss of fine motor skills in athletes. It is poorly understood and has no known treatment or therapy. Athletes affected by the yips sometimes recover their ability, but many are forced to abandon their sport at the highest level. Ankiel was no exception.


The year after pitching in the National League division series he was sent down to the minors but still struggled with yips. After trying to regain his pitching form in the minor leagues and briefly returning to the majors in 2004, he switched to the outfield in early 2005. For two and a half years, he honed his skills as a hitter and fielder in the Cardinals' minor-league system. He returned to the Cardinals on August 9, 2007. As a Cardinal until 2009, Ankiel hit 47 home runs as an outfielder and two as a pitcher. After the 2009 season, Ankiel became a free agent. Subsequently, he was signed by the Royals and later was traded to the Braves.


In his April 2017 book, The Phenomenon: Pressure, the Yips, and the Pitch that Changed My Life, Ankiel describes how the true test of his character came not on the mound, but in the long days and nights that followed as he searched for a way to get back in the game. For four and a half years, he fought the yips and, after reconsidering his whole life at the age of twenty-five, Ankiel made an amazing turnaround: returning to the Major Leagues as a hitter and playing seven successful seasons.


While Ankiel had to deal with adversity on the professional level, Aron Lee Ralston had to deal with it as a life and death situation. Ralston is an American outdoorsman, mechanical engineer and motivational speaker known for surviving a canyoneering accident by cutting off his own arm. During a solo descent of Bluejohn Canyon in southeastern Utah he dislodged a boulder, pinning his right wrist to the side of the canyon wall. After five days he was able to amputate his arm with a dull pocketknife, make his way through the rest of the canyon, rappel down a 65-foot (20 m) drop, and hike 7 miles (11 km) to safety. The incident is documented in Ralston's autobiography Between a Rock and a Hard Place and is the subject of the 2010 film 127 Hours where he is portrayed by James Franco.


Reflecting upon adversity and the options available to people, Ralston wrote on his book:


“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”


As you go about your day reflect upon the role of adversity and understand people seldom make progress without it. Those who have navigated the chaos have learned to use their adversity as the catalyst they were looking for in order to move forward. Are you?