What does it mean to triumph over adversity?
Have you ever had the feeling that whatever you attempt to do, adversity steps in and complicates it? Does this keep you from trying anything new because of the fear it won’t go as planned? Adversity is as much a part of life as change and is neither good nor bad. And just like change, it’s how you react that determines if it is positive or negative.
A few years back I had an opportunity to go rappelling with a good friend, which was a challenge as I had a fear of heights. This little after-work outing happened to turn into years of enjoyable rock climbing and was an enjoyable time in my life. Before I got to that point, however, I had to overcome a little adversity. It was mid-afternoon on a warm summer day and several of us had decided to tag along with a friend and see what this rappelling business was all about.
Our guide for the outing, Jim, was one of a group of people I hung around with, and to say the least, we were amateur thrill seekers. He decided we could rappel off a particular cliff in the famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre Park. We arrived at about 4 in the afternoon, plenty of time before dark, to have a little fun. As soon as we were out of the vehicles he started piling equipment and ropes on us, to lug up the hill. One of us who had been on this specific trip with him before stayed below, and the rest of us wound our way up the back side of a particular area known for the activity, scrambling over rocks and up small drop-offs to emerge on top of a 100-foot cliff. The view to the east was a long gaze into the skyscrapers of the downtown Denver skyline with what appeared to be flat land all the way in, although living in the area I knew it was more like slow rolling hills instead of the expanse it appeared to be. As Denver sits in a large shallow bowl next to the Rocky Mountains, the view went all the way to Kansas.
Jim started sorting equipment, calling out tasks to the rest of us, and preparing to make the great descent. He wrapped the rope around a boulder, secured it tightly and threw the other end over the cliff. Next, he harnessed each one of us up with the gear that would allow us as much safety as possible in a situation that was, to say the least, thrilling! One of the other participants decided he would be first, so Jim checked his harness and explained the process, hooked him to the belay rope and yelled “on belay” to our cohort at the bottom of the cliff.
As our friend slowly backed off the cliff, acquiring a horizontal stance just over the edge, his grip on the rope was slightly released and he was on his way down the cliff. Several minutes later, we heard the call, “off belay” from down below. During this time the sky had darkened a bit with clouds coming over the mountains, typical on summer days in Colorado. Another couple of victims slide over the cliff and down the rope and it was my turn. Jim checked the harness, hooked me to the rope and yelled “on belay” And I started backing over the cliff. Heart pounding in my throat, every ounce of brain matter screaming out, asking what I thought I was doing going off a cliff backward as I crept over the edge. The action of going over the edge while keeping the body perpendicular to the surface of the edge was a bit of a trick, but I accomplished that. Then the real adversity hit. One of those dark clouds decided it was time to have a little fun with these defiers of death on this cliff. First, a raindrop here and there and then that cloud split right open.
Twenty-five feet over the cliff and the rope had more water running down it than comes out of a water faucet. The flat top of the hill was shedding water all along the top edge of the cliff, which was, in turn, showering me as I was taking careful step after careful step going down the cliff. Sand being washed off the top with the rainwater was collecting in my shirt and along the edges of the harness, splashing me in the face with cold sandy mud. But I kept on creeping down the side. I finally arrived at the bottom, soaked, clothes full of sand, and ecstatic. I’d just lived through the biggest thrill of my life and survived!
From that point on I knew I could overcome any adversity thrown at me. I knew everything else would be a piece of cake. The other rappellers before me were plastered up against the wall of the cliff, trying to get out of the rain. I just stood there and laughed, because I had just been through a life changing event and they were huddling there like the rain was going to melt them like the Wicked Witch of the West. I look back on that day now and realize this one event changed my outlook on life. I confronted my fear of heights, was subjected to adversity, and not only overcame it, but thrived on it all in one fell swoop.
Adversity in life is normal, as normal as change, it’s what you do about it, and how you view it, that changes how it affects your life. You can cringe at the bottom of the cliff, worried about what comes next, or you can hit it head on and overcome it. And then celebrate overcoming it. Adversity can be a positive driving force. We all know the person who has to have everything go perfectly, maybe we work with that person or for that person, and when something out of the ordinary comes along, they get flustered, or worse, freeze up. Life is better enjoyed when you know whatever curve ball you’re pitched, you do your best to knock it out of the park, and if you fail, you gave it your all.