Registration for SOCAP23 is open! Get your tickets today!

The Purpose of Adversity in Business

Mike McDonnell July 3, 2019

What’s one thing people shy away from or avoid altogether — but that has become a common theme around successful social entrepreneurs who build big businesses?


Successful social entrepreneurs have all overcome adversity in some shape or form, and have used it to build the platform that skyrocketed their success. There is a real argument that what they’ve had to go through gave them personal growth, skills, and the mental strength they then took with them into their business.

So, what benefits can we actually get from experiencing some kind of hardship?

You Condition Yourself to Negativity

As you go through adversity, you build up a certain level of grit and determination that you only get by getting to the other side of pain. Some might call it a defense mechanism or a “wall” that you put up against the world, but this objectivity allows you to take more hits from the entrepreneurial world, which allows you to go much further than you otherwise would.

Almost like going to the gym to strengthen your body, you can strengthen your mind by going through some mental, emotional, and spiritual adversity, too.

Create a Way Through It

Sometimes, hoping or finding a way out isn’t an option. Oftentimes, you have to actually create your own way — learn skills, do things you wouldn’t normally do, and do whatever it takes with whatever you have or can eventually have. It becomes a game of how resourceful you are versus what resources you have.

You may have to learn something new; you may have to just grit your teeth, bear it, and accept that you’ll be stronger when it’s over. You see, the experience alone is not enough to strengthen you; you have to learn about yourself, learn something new, and make a way through what you’re going through. The benefits down the road become way more than the moment of pain.

Let the Adversity Happen

When I first encountered diversity, I fought it the whole time. I didn’t like the feeling so I fought against it, judged myself for feeling bad even when it was a bad situation. Then, “feeling bad for feeling bad” kicked in, which took me weeks to get over, long after the fight stopped and I made it to the other side.

But the second time around and every time after that, I let it happen. I’d have my bad moments, get angry, and get frustrated at the world. In the letting go of the process — letting go of the fight — you’ll be surprised at how much faster you can go from your downward spiral to back to normal again, and carrying on on your business journey.

Your ability to move from failure to failure without losing motivation is also a common theme around successful purpose-driven business owners. Your ability to let the adversity happen is one of the keys to speeding up the process and getting to the other side so you can keep going. It used to take me weeks to get over a bad spell while on my entrepreneurial journey. Now, it’s lucky to last a couple of hours (and that’s including losing friends and family members along with failed businesses).

Learn From Your Adversity

Every time I have a bout of depression or I have to recover from a failure or a loss, I learn something about what triggered it or what I can do next time to help prevent it. Sometimes, I actually realize what the adversity was trying to teach me. When you’re deep in your struggle, it’s too late to hate yourself for the thing you said or did, because you’re experiencing the result of what’s happening.

It’s too late now, so the best you can do is not beat yourself up, not feel bad for feeling bad, and work very hard to take something — anything — away from your experience that you can learn from and put it to work in your life so you’re less likely to spiral again.

Each and every time I go through this process, it speeds up, and I actually find myself stretching further, doing more, pushing myself further in business than I ever thought I could go.

Gradually, you will get better and it will get easier, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never struggle again. The best you can do is prepare as best as you can, and make sure you keep improving how you respond to the adversity you face.

Stakeholder Capitalism
Join the SOCAP Newsletter!