Five Ways to Deal with Adversity


By: Forest Service Northern Region
Seeing a black bear on a hike is some adversity that can cause focus!

My wife and I were on a hike recently in the local mountain range just northeast of our home.  We were doing what we always do on a hike: solving the world’s problems by chit-chatting together.  Then, at least a quarter of a mile down the path, we saw a black bear cub.  Immediately the mantra “Where there’s a cub, there’s a mama bear” came to our minds and we got a bit scared.

The cub was blocking the only path we knew between us and the car.  What should we do?

Here’s what we ended up doing: I asked my wife to keep her eyes on the bear and I opened up my pack.  I pulled out my nice-sized pocket knife that I carry with us on hikes.  Then we switched and she grabbed her pepper spray.  Luckily the bear started down the path going away from us, so we followed slowly.  Along the way I picked up an old signpost that I could use as a distraction/weapon as a last resort.

After following the bear for ten or fifteen minutes it went off the trail and we lost sight of it.  That didn’t matter much.  In fact, it may have made matters worse.  Until we were in the car and driving back to our place I didn’t lose focus on protecting my wife and myself from a bear attack!

How to Face Adversity

In my experience nothing creates focus or intentionality quite like adversity.  Now please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not saying that you or I should go out looking for adversity all willy-nilly.  That’s just stupid.  Why?  Because adversity will find you!

And when it does, you have two choices really: 1) prepare to confront it head-on to the best of your abilities or 2) completely freeze up and be consumed by it.  From experience let me tell you that number 2 just doesn’t work as a long-term strategy!

So, here are a few tips that I’ve learned about how to focus when facing adversity:

  1. Have a well-stocked pack: I’m not sure what we would have done to feel safe on the trail if we hadn’t packed well.  The same is true in life.  What do you have at your disposal at a moment’s notice?  If faced with a tough situation do you have the resources and relationships to make it through?
  2. Come up with a plan: I’m pretty sure that my pocket knife and my wife’s pepper spray would have probably made the bear more angry than anything, but it was a plan, however ill-conceived!  When faced with adversity almost any plan is better than no plan.  So when tough times come, take a moment, breathe, and come up with a plan using the resources and relationships that you have.
  3. Proceed with cautionThere’s absolutely no need to rush into things, at least not in most cases.  Take your time.  Most real cases of adversity aren’t easily solved or overcome.  There’s no need to rush a bear on a hiking trail after all!
  4. Keep your eyes open for help: While following your plan carefully you may find something else along the way to help you, like an old sign post!  It’s always good to use whatever new resources present themselves when faced with adversity.
  5. Learn from the adversity: One of the first things I did when I got home (after sharing the bear-sighting on Facebook, of course) was to learn some things about hiking safety so that we might be better prepared for the next bear encounter we have.  Luckily for us there’s a wealth of information out there.  The same thing is true of the adversity we face in life: once we get through it, we need to learn from it.  To put it back into hiking terms, what do we need to add or subtract from our pack to help us deal with this same kind of thing in the future?

How do you deal with adversity?  Did I leave anything out?  Let me know in the comments below!