In online posts this past month, I’ve read that 2017 was a challenging year for many. Within my circle of friends and colleagues, it was particularly difficult. Two lost a spouse, another lost a sister, some had tough times with their kids, one got sick, and a few lost their jobs. I was affected by these situations as I supported these friends/colleagues and listened to their stories. I asked myself what good can come from these hardships, and how can I help?

In asking these questions, I was reminded of the movie Collateral Beauty starring Will Smith. The film explored how when bad things happen, we are forced to face what we have feared and/or may have been avoiding. We are challenged to stretch, grow, and seek greater understanding. With the pain comes the opportunity to re-examine, re-prioritize, re-vamp, and re-focus. Adversity provides us with a chance to open our eyes, correct our course, and be better to ourselves and others.

Adversity doesn’t always come in the form of a traumatic event. Sometimes it can be a snowballing problem. And sometimes it is a personality “Achilles heel” that someone has been tripping over for years and finally needs to kick to the curb. When facing life-changing, growing, or recurring challenges, it can be hard to find one’s footing and figure out the next best steps. What I’ve found helpful as I’ve worked with friends, colleagues, and executive coaching clients over the years, or even as I’ve faced adversity myself, is to ask a series of tried and true questions. The answers will be different for each person and problem, but the questions are applicable to all and worth pondering.

Questions to Open the Gift of Adversity


  • What questions do you need to explore and answer?
  • What can you do to allow yourself time and space to ponder/answer these questions?
  • Who can help you answer these questions?


  • What do you need to do to heal and/or take care of yourself?
  • What would “healthy” look and feel like to you?
  • What do you need to do more of to get healthy? Less of?


  • What do you really care about and need to include in your life?
  • How are you honoring/living your values? Not honoring/living them?
  • What changes do you need to make to more fully honor/live your values and be a happier person?


  • Which of your relationships are important and need some attention/work?
  • What do you need to say and/or do to improve your relationships?
  • What do you need to not say or do to improve your relationships?


  • What strengths and passions do you really want to contribute through your work? Avocations?
  • What skills and experiences do you need to develop in order to give your best?
  • What are the important things you need in your job to be happy and in your sweet spot in work and life?


  • What type of support do you need at this time? Not need?
  • Who can help you and how?
  • How should you ask for the support you need, and show gratitude for the support you receive?

Next Steps

  • What feelings/fears do you need to deal with and/or overcome?
  • What needs to start as a result of this ending or challenge? What needs to stop?
  • What is the one most important next step you need to take to propel you toward what you want now and in the future?

In my executive coaching practice, I’ve witnessed clients open the gift of adversity, and reflect upon and answer many of the above questions. During our coaching engagements, they review difficult feedback, acknowledge their imperfections, set stretch goals, work on broken relationships, tackle new techniques, fall short of targets, and try again. None of this is easy, but the self-awareness, skill development, performance improvement, and career satisfaction I see leaders gain when they do this work is undeniable (and we do have fun in the process).

The concept that we grow and strengthen from adversity has been around forever. We’ve all heard sayings like “No pain, no gain,” “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” and “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Musicians have written countless lyrics like “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and “I get knocked down, but I get up again.” Books and talks inspire us with concepts like “resilience” and “grit.” All of these help us remember that when life really challenges us, we have the choice and chance to reflect on the above questions, answer them, and get better. We can balance out the universe. We can look for the gift of adversity, accept it, unwrap it, examine it, use it, and pass it on.