The Adversity That Will Shape You

When I was four years old, my mother bought me an old red bicycle at a garage sale. I didn’t know how to ride a bicycle, but I wanted to learn so I could ride with the kids in my neighborhood. As you probably guessed, I hit the ground several times while learning to ride. A couple of those times drew tears. One or two drew blood.

In a short time, however, I learned how to ride a bicycle. I didn’t just learn to ride the red bike, I learned to ride any bike. When mom and dad bought me a brand new bicycle for Christmas, I rode that sucker into the ground. In essence, those times I fell and cried and bled assured me of a lifelong lesson, and that was not the only lifelong lesson that came with a lot of pain.

Mistakes, you could say, made me who I am today. One mistake after another allowed me to step back and reassess my approach to things. I dated 14 people before I found the one woman who would marry me. I missed the payment on a couple of credit cards — plunging my credit score into the low 400s — before I learned to budget and pay more than the minimum balance. (My credit score is now in the low 800s.)

Of course, there are big mistakes that could lead to some irreparable consequences. Those are the mistakes that you generally leave up to other people to do and for you to learn from, like cheating on an exam or lying on the stand. You don’t want to do those… You want to see what happens when you do those things and remind yourself of those consequences when you are faced with the possibility of making those mistakes. That way, you don’t make those mistakes.

Get it?

The thing about life is that it is full of adversities. Colin Cowherd once said that life is just a series of transactions of stress and stressors. You get rid of something that stresses you and pass it on to someone else. That person then has to take the stressor and pass it on, or live with it. So do you when someone passes on a stress to you. As a parent, Baby Ren is passing on her stress to me when she is hungry, tired, or has a dirty diaper. In the next decades — until I die, probably — she will be causing me (or passing on to me) stress, and I’ll have to deal with that stress or pass it on to someone else.

Now, show me someone without adversity in their lives, and I will show you a newborn baby… Because it’s about at age 2 days that adversity sets in. I mean, you need a bottle and you can’t get up and get it. That’s some adversity right there. Lucky for most of us, our parents are there to help. (Or our relatives.) Later on in life, our friends or cousins are there. And then other people show up to help. In essence, there are very few times when you go through adversity completely alone.

Toward the end of your life, you’ll probably look back and find that all those times of adversity shaped you into something good, someone resilient and someone who is wise. After all, the best way to learn was through all that adversity, and — if you spread it out throughout a lifetime — you will have learned a lot at the end. Of course, your mileage may vary. You may be one of those lucky people who don’t go through much adversity for one reason or another. Or you’re one of those people who go through way too much adversity, to the point it breaks you. I hope you’re neither… I hope you have just enough adversity to make you better.

I'm a doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Public Health program at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. All opinions posted here are my own, of course, and they do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my school, employers, friends, family, etc. Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen