“A pearl is a beautiful thing that is produced by an injured life...if we have not been injured, then we will not produce the pearl.” - Stephan Hoelle
The sea oyster, injured and irritated, places layers upon layers of tear-like fluid called nacre over the damaging grit on its tongue. Slowly, over 5-6 years, the hardship is transformed into a breathtaking pearl.
It just doesn’t get any more poetic than that.
We all face adversity and setbacks. They can be that little grain, like a stressful work situation, or a damn boulder like cancer or child abuse. It’s hard to be your best when life is at its worst. It can be comforting to remember that learning from adversity and transforming it into something worthwhile often takes time.
Aside from time, it takes grit. Grit is not only the nagging adversity on the oyster’s tongue and in our lives; it is also what we need to make our own life pearls.
According to this American Psychological Association Research, “hardiness,” aka grit, is the key to turning adversity into advantage. They noted that those who thrived maintained three key beliefs…”commitment, control and challenge attitudes.” Commitment kept them engaged in their lives instead of letting hardship isolate them. Control was their drive to resist passivity and victim-hood and influence the outcome of their lives. And Challenge meant that they saw new and stressful changes as learning opportunities.
So, essentially, the essence of grit comes down to attitude and belief about adversity. Change your perspective and develop the gumption required to make lemons into lemonade.
Many have overcome great difficult circumstances to lead exceptional lives. One inspiring modern example is Aimee Mullins -- American athlete, actress, fashion model and amputee. She gave a recent TED Talk, The Opportunity of Adversity, to discuss some false ingrained perspectives we hold about adversity. Specifically, she’s opposed to the idea that difficulty and limitation is something we “overcome.”
She expounds saying: “Implicit in this phrase of ‘overcoming adversity’ is the idea that success, or happiness, is about emerging on the other side of a challenging experience unscathed or unmarked by the experience.... But, in fact, we are changed. Adversity isn't an obstacle that we need to get around in order to resume living our life. It's part of our life. So it's not about devaluing, or negating, these more trying times as something we want to avoid or sweep under the rug, but instead to find those opportunities wrapped in the adversity. So maybe the idea I want to put out there is not so much overcoming adversity as it is opening ourselves up to it, embracing it, grappling with it... maybe even dancing with it. And, perhaps, if we see adversity as natural, consistent and useful, we're less burdened by the presence of it.”
Our most powerful assets as humans is our ability to adapt. In this way, adversity gives us power -- the power to change our lives and to give ourselves the gift of transformation. Our problems and challenges are change agents.
Without the grain of adversity, there are no pearls.