Succeeding in the Face of Adversity

Man standing on top of moutain

It’s no secret we’re in uncharted territory.  The unknown is anxiety-inducing and can feel overwhelming as we try to adjust to changing requirements in our day-to-day lives.  It’s happened before, perhaps not in this particular package, but natural disasters, terrorism, and unexpected circumstances have disrupted the norm and in some cases altered the course of what has become the new normal.

As we navigate through the uncertainty of today in health, politics, business and more you’ll find leaders emerge who provide the kind of stability and confidence needed to assess and address the situations at hand.  These leaders won’t always be those you assume should be rising to the challenges ahead; instead, they may rise and shine in the most unlikely of places: your neighbors, co-workers, coaches, teachers, etc.

We too can be a source of strength and leadership to those around us despite the uncertainty we face personally and collectively. Every new challenge or difficult circumstance forces as to make a choice: rise to the occasion and overcome adversity or allow it to discourage and paralyze us.  Henry Ford so wisely stated, “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”  Adversity, change, disruption is healthy and good.  It forces us to stop, reevaluate, and innovative.

I have frequently used the example of King George VI when thinking about overcoming fears and adversities.  To briefly summarize, King George – through no choice of his own – became the monarch of the United Kingdom when his brother abdicated the throne. It was 1939, and Great Britain had just declared war on Germany.

He was terrified.  Thrust into a position he didn’t want and felt completely unqualified for.  You see, King George struggled with a speech impediment during a time when people were becoming more and more reliant on a new form of communication: radio.

Terrified at the need to connect with his subjects, he would have preferred to live in the shadows. However, in wartime England, silence was not an option. The king of the world’s oldest monarchy needed to be seen—and heard. The British people wanted to know that their king supported their efforts to fight in World War II and rid the world of the evil lurking across the English Channel.

Fearing the embarrassment and shame of his debilitating stutter, King George felt defeated from the onset. He was painfully aware that if he didn’t confront his fears, he would be crushed under the weight of his countrymen’s expectations.

Many of us are no different than King George.  When we are asked to rise and lead or speak with confidence, we can feel inadequate. It can feel difficult to shake off the nervous tension that erodes our confi­dence and inhibits success. You can watch a brilliant depiction of King George’s story play by Colin Firth in The King’s Speech.

When you watch the finale of the movie, you see King George in a studio about to broadcast his first major wartime speech on the radio. Nervous and looking as if he were heading toward his own execution, he faces the challenge of his life head-on. By varying the pitch and pace, word for word, the king delivers a masterful speech at a moment in time when both men had so much to gain or lose from his performance. Millions of British citizens stood ready to hear their King speak firmly to unify the nation in its fight against the Axis powers.

The King of England learned to exceed his own expectations in the face of adversity. He demonstrated that there is hope for anyone who chooses to confront his or her own fears as well. King George is an inspiration for anyone looking to overcome what may feel like the most daunting of challenges.

The words of his speech, while addressed to a wartime conflict, seem just as applicable now – or in any monumental challenge we may face individually or collectively:

In this grave hour, perhaps the most fateful in our history, I send to every household of my peoples, both at home and overseas, this message, spoken with the same depth of feeling for each one of you as if I were able to cross your threshold and speak to you myself. For the second time in the lives of most of us, we are at war.

We have been forced into a conflict, for we are called, with our allies, to meet the challenge of a principle which, if it were to prevail, would be fatal to any civilized order in the world.

I ask them to stand calm and firm and united in this time of trial.

The task will be hard. There may be dark days ahead, and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield, but we can only do the right as we see the right, and reverently commit our cause to God.

If one and all we keep resolutely faithful to it, ready for whatever service or sacrifice it may demand, then with God’s help, we shall prevail.

There are opportunities all around us, even in moments of solitude where we can overcome our challenges, face our fears and become an effective leader to those around us. As the king says, the task shall be hard. And there will be dark days and moments when you feel like you won’t be up to the task. But if you stay faithful and commit to improving, growing, and adapting, you’ll prevail in the end. You will advance and grow more confident in ways that are beyond even your own expectations.

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