Does adversity strengthen you?

Today is June 3 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “does adversity 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, sometimes adversity is the result of someone else. Perhaps a manager, colleague, or business partner that 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.

Julia Stewart used adversity to strengthen her career path. A waitress at IHOP in her teens, Stewart worked her way up through the organization to eventually become president of Applebee’s domestic division. She was, however, denied the opportunity to be CEO, a position she thought she had been promised.

Not letting this adversity derail her goal of becoming CEO, she left Applebee’s to become CEO of IHOP. Once she settled into her CEO role, Stewart then proceeded to engineer a takeover of Applebee’s in 2007, taking on $2.3 billion in debt to do so.

As of December 31, 2019, Dine Brands had 3,628 restaurants including 1,787 Applebee's and 1,841 IHOP restaurants, including 69 Applebee's that are company owned, 161 IHOP restaurants that are owned by area licensees and 3,398 franchised restaurants including 1,718 Applebee's and 1,680 IHOP restaurants.

Much like Stewart, 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 9 wild pitches and walked 11 batters in just 4 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.

American businessman and entrepreneur Walt Disney noted “All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me….You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”

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?