Adversity and Excellence
By Joel F. Wade - May 25, 2012

Nobody wants adversity. It is, after all, adverse – antagonistic to what you want. But adversity is also often what makes us who we are, in the best sense.

My first year playing water polo at UC Santa Barbara was one of those times for me. I thought for some reason that I would easily be the starting goalie for the team. But I was mistaken. There were other excellent players who were competing for that position, and for the next two years I battled my way to get and hold the number two spot. Then my senior year some pipsqueak came along and made me work harder still to hold my starting position.

I hated having to fight for my spot – but I loved the effects. (I somehow understood this at the time). There is no way in the world that I would have reached my potential had I had an easy time getting into first position, no matter how much I wanted to.

Given the choice, going purely on feelings, I would have chosen to have the spot secured. But what was so gratifying, and what I felt so very proud of – to the point that I still think of it three decades later – is the challenge, the hard work, the fight and the triumph.

This is nothing unique or new, and it is a very mild story of positive adversity compared to the much harsher ones that I’m sure you’ve heard or experienced. This dynamic is part of the human condition. Everyone reading this has had their own challenges, hard work, fights and triumphs. I could cite other examples as well. It’s especially important to keep these things in mind right now as we fight for our freedom, and our culture of freedom, in America.

Look at the course of political events: Ronald Reagan didn’t just come out of nowhere. He worked for decades, honing his skills and knowledge and finally becoming governor of California in 1966, while the Goldwater conservatives fought to steer the Republican party away from the squishy Rockefeller end of the spectrum, some of them splitting off to found the Libertarian Party. Finally in 1980, Reagan and the rest of us had a shot and used it more or less well for the next eight years.

In 1994, it looked like we were going to ride another wave of the Reagan Revolution. But by the time President Bush came along in 2000 with majorities in the House and Senate, complacency had set in and we had a House and Senate full of big-spending Republicans that soon blew both their reputation and their majorities.

I think we’re in pretty good shape right now, mostly because those Republicans lost. Had they never lost Congress in 2006 and had McCain won the presidency in 2008, we would still have a Republican Party that was willing to spend big and regulate with progressive abandon.

With the left wing Democrats in charge, we’ve been reminded that anything can happen here – even really bad things – and if we don’t rally to meet the challenge we will regret it for a very, very long time.

We’ve all been humiliated and demoralized at some point in our lives. That’s a good thing to experience from time to time – not a pleasant thing, not anything I’d deliberately choose to go through myself or wish on anybody that I cared for. But I also know that I have experienced it before and I will experience it again, and if I handle it well it will be something I will look back on with pride and gratitude – and if I don’t experience it again I won’t achieve what I’m capable of.

This is something that Charles Murray has pointed out about kids and education. We have a lot of kids who have only known success. They have never felt the sting of finding that they aren’t able to accomplish something they wanted to accomplish. They have never felt the humiliation of defeat.

Short-term and feelings-wise, that can be an attractive position. I would like to never have to feel such things; they hurt and I prefer to not hurt. It’s not the kind of thing that one rationally brings about on purpose. But long-term, and for a child’s ability to deal with real life situations that will arise, knowing only success is not a benefit to them.

Failure is a part of life. Things don’t always go as planned. Winners don’t always win. In fact, one of the things that distinguishes a winner is the strength and resilience to bounce back after defeat, to move on to the next game, the next business opportunity, the next race, the next round, with as much confidence and focus as ever.

This is true for relationships as well. When couples go through hard times together, it can sometimes tear them apart. But when a couple can face those challenges as a team, as allies, then their relationship grows stronger and more resilient. They gain a reputation with each other, a foundation of trust that lets them know that they are the kind of people they can rely on. This can cement a bond that is unbreakable over time.

Becoming that kind of a person is a momentous triumph. Being that kind of a person is a tremendous blessing. But you don’t get to feel that way without adversity.

This is part of what the left does not understand in a fundamental sense. They want to help everybody to avoid failure and humiliation. They want to create a theoretical world where adversity does not exist, where a government “helper” is there at every turn.

But those hardships, that threat of shame and loss, is just the setting for the play, the perennial drama that serves to – potentially – bring out the best in a human life. Nothing of moment happens until adversity enters the scene.

Our founders weren’t handed a republic. They risked everything to make it happen in the face of overwhelming odds. The folks who won WWII and pulled us out of the Depression didn’t know they were going to win and bring America to the heights of prosperity. They gave it everything they had and made these things happen.

When the economy ground to a halt in 2008 and the Liberal Fascists took power and set out to transform America into their vision of a progressive Utopia, what will history record that we did? We have no way of knowing; that scene has not yet played out.

The question is not, “What do you have?” The question is always, “What will you do now? How will you deal with the path that’s laid out before you?”

There are a lot of people faced with tough times right now. Some friends of ours have moved to a new home in another town because that’s the only way they can make ends meet. They’re handling it well, facing the circumstances and making hard decisions.

Knowing them, I expect that for the next few months they’ll feel bad, have regrets and have some nights of not sleeping well. A year from now, maybe two, they’ll be in a better position and will feel good about what they did. Five or ten years from now they may look back on this time as a turning point, a time when they grew closer as a family and learned to face some new challenges with grace and humor.

What are you facing? Whatever it may be, remember that these are the times that allow us to shine. These are the times that present us with the challenges that we have to rise to meet. These are the times that can bring us together as families, mates, friends and communities. It all begins with a choice.

Then the hard work begins, the hard work that can bring excellence out of adversity.