The Brighter Side of Darkness
The Benefits of Adversity in Work & Personal Life
We penetrated deeper and deeper into the heart of darkness — Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness
1. A Short Confession
Let me begin with a confession. Some of my articles begin with a quotation that a) resonates with me and b) is related to the subject matter at hand.
More importantly though, I want to instill a love for literature in every person that reads my articles. World literature has broadened my horizons, made me tolerant and to an extent, reading has provided me with the ability to step into someone else’s shoes and understand their world.
It always saddens me that many authors do not deserve the recognition they deserve while they are alive. Some leave this world economically destitute. Yet, posthumously, their work becomes eternal. Therein lies the bright side of the darkness that prevailed in their lives. In giving hope to generations of humans later, hope is their legacy that lives beyond their words and lives.
However, there is another dark side to Joseph Conrad’s work ‘The Heart of Darkness’ — a story about a voyage to and about experiences in Congo, Africa.
Literary critic Harold Bloom wrote that Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness has been analyzed more than any other work of literature in colleges and universities. Yet, Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian novelist, whose first novel Things Fall Apart (1958) is considered as the most widely read book in modern African literature, criticizes Conrad’s work as demeaning the African people.
It is doubly ironic that the darkness perceived by Chinua is considered a beacon in the western world.
There is a bright side to every darkness but it needs a brave mind to see it.
If there is one quality that is key to success, it is tolerance of failure. There is nothing more important than failure to build the strength needed to succeed. Spartans, merely by practicing war became invincible. Therefore, to become invincible inside, you have to crumble many times. That is the bright side of a darkness called adversity.
3. A Personal Experience
While I don’t claim to love adversity or wish it upon others, I have learnt the most in adverse circumstances. At a very young age, my experiences have boosted my tolerance to the point that I can weather almost any storm or so I believe.
One of my experiences as a young professional was to lead a broken team that was not cohesive and lacked the experience necessary to perform the task at hand. Also, I did not have the requisite knowledge or experience. I was thrown into the proverbial swimming pool and told to swim without coaching. The stakes were very high as our work was under constant supervision by third parties from a different country and also by a regulator in my home country.
During the course of my assignment, my first job was to create a vision and lay out a path to achieve the destination. Along the way, I had to walk the talk to convince my team that I was not demotivated. In fact, it was quite the opposite, I was ready to tackle the challenge. There were many times where I felt the darkness surround me with little or no hope of successfully completing the assignment but I took every day as it came. My mental resolve was close to break down but I managed to keep myself afloat enough to lead the team.
Don’t get me wrong, I made a lot of mistakes along the way but I always took blame for the mistakes of my team and tried to shield them from the adverse consequences. In hindsight, I feel everyone should fight their own battles.
This experience truly forged my character. I gained a reputation as a turn around artist and received an even more challenging assignment as a parting gift. But, you know that — that’s exactly what I wished for and you should too.
Seek out greater challenges everyday and at the end of the journey, you will find that there are only a handful of things in life that can perturb you. Adversity builds character.
4. Empirical Research and Application in Business
Many of you may be aware of Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and Emotional Quotient (EQ). However, some of you maybe surprised to know that there is an Adversity Quotient (AQ) that measures resilience.
The term was coined by Paul Stoltz in 1997 in his book Adversity Quotient: Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities. To quantify adversity quotient, Stoltz developed an assessment method called the Adversity Response Profile (ARP) The AQ is one of the probable indicators of a person’s success in life and is also primarily useful to predict attitude, mental stress, perseverance, longevity, learning, and response to changes in environment. (source:wiki)
Harvard Business School uses the AQ profile to assess resilience of its leaders in its Executive Education and MBA programs. In now way am I endorsing the AQ profile, I recommend learning more about it:
What is AQ (Adversity Quotient)? | Overview | Benefits of AQ, the world's most widely used method…
What is AQ (Adversity Quotient)? Learn how AQ can help businesses boost performance and enhance their bottom line.
5. Case Studies: Application in Entrepreneurship
Authors Jim Clifton and Sangeeta Bharadwaj Badal, in their book Entrepreneurial StrengthsFinder examined the psychology of entrepreneurship.
Not surprisingly, they found that highly successful entrepreneurs have a high adversity quotient — the ability to recover from setbacks. (Source:Inc.com, September 17,2014)
Kevin Zhao, an entrepreneur and CEO of Wangli Bank, China emphasized the importance of AQ over IQ and EQ. Citing Jack Ma as an example and drawing on his own personal experience, Kevin in an interview with CKGSB Knowledge stressed the importance of resilience and problem solving abilities.
In fact, starting and growing a business, anywhere in the world and more so in Asia, would truly call for a high AQ.
6. Case Study: Application in Venture Capital
John Sharp is a serial entrepreneur and investor, and the co-founding Partner of Hatcher+, a data-driven, globally-focused venture investment platform based in Singapore.
In his article — 9 KPIS FOR VENTURE GUYS, John writes:
We’re big fans of founders — and fellow partners — who display high levels of “AQ” (“Adversity Quotient”). Startups are not for pushovers — but they are not for naysayers either. Positive, pushy, and profoundly interested in the problem being solved — that’s what we’re looking for. And that’s what we think LPs should look for in their venture guys as well.
7. Concluding Remarks
Some of the most competitive exams in Asia like the Gaokao (a college entrance exam) in China or the Chartered Accountancy (CA) final exam in India which has a pass rate of less than 10% — 5.75% (as per the Times of India) are true tests of resilience.
I am a Chartered Accountant and I can tell you that the exam prepared me for every adversity in life.
To all my readers, build resilience while you can. The only way to build resilience is to practice it during times of adversity. It doesn’t have to be a self imposed crisis but rather a combination of a cause you are passionate about and an urgent problem that needs solving.
The perfect storm can be a perfect test only if you navigate it as one.