When Adversity Strikes Be Sure You’re Framing It Properly

New York Times health columnist Jane Brody writes about a new book, The Gift of Adversity:

The book’s titular message — that adversity can be a gift — is especially relevant now, as millions of Americans who have lost jobs struggle to reinvent themselves. After 20 productive years as a researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health, Dr. Rosenthal felt he was essentially forced out by new leadership.

GiftOfAdversity-250x360“This kind of thing happens to many people in all fields,” Dr. Rosenthal wrote. “Sometimes you need to accept that it’s time to move on — and to do so.” And so he did, becoming an independent clinical researcher, private clinician and, perhaps most important of all, an author of science-based nonfiction written in an entertaining and accessible style.

In an interview, he offered this message to people in midlife who have lost jobs: “Accept the situation and view it as part of a national trend, not a reflection of your personal worth. Reach within yourself to see what else you can do, what you value, then cultivate it. There are lots of opportunities out there, skills you can upgrade, and new skills you can master.”

He cautioned against comparing oneself to others more fortunate, which can lead to depression. He suggested that older job seekers emphasize their advantages over the young: wisdom, judgment, interpersonal skills and experience, all of which can foster creative thinking and effective teamwork.

The moral of his departure from the institute: “Look within to gauge your worth rather than depending on institutions or the opinions of others, for institutions rise and fall and fashions come and go, but a good sense of your own value will see you through life’s ups and downs.”

It is a lesson I had to learn midcareer, when my confidence was nearly shattered. At the time I worked under an editor who disliked me or my work — or both. He repeatedly ripped my copy to shreds, leaving me in tears and wanting to quit.

But before I relinquished what to me was the best job in the world, I figured out a strategy that worked: writing articles edited by others. Soon after, the editor moved on, and I returned to writing what I and my readers enjoyed.

The point: often faith in oneself prevails over temporary obstacles.

True, sometimes we have only ourselves to blame for these obstacles. Yet mistakes, if dwelled upon, can easily erode a person’s ego. My late husband once told me he remembered every mistake he’d ever made, which may have contributed to his propensity for depression.

The message may seem a little “pat” but it isn’t. It also isn’t inimical to recognizing the societal roots of personal suffering. There’s a difference between a shallow positiveness and what this article is discussing, which is to frame your situation in the most positive, healing, and useful way. The latter is a crucial life skill no matter what your situation or political orientation.

Also, not comparing yourself with others, and not looking outside for validation–especially when society’s values conflict with your own–are always good advice.

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