Forget Thriving Just Survive

It’s unrealistic and foolish to think you’ll always thrive.

Sometimes just making it is enough.

Dennis N. T. Perkins, author of, “Leading at the Edge,” did a lot of things well until Plebe Year at the Naval Academy, then he couldn’t do anything well. It’s designed that way. His goal – survive.

I asked Dennis what he learned during Plebe Year. “I could do tough stuff,” slipped off his tongue. It’s a phrase easily said but learned in distress and hardship. Adversity teaches you things ease knows nothing of.

Success affirms, adversity reveals. T.S. Eliot’s wisely said, “If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?”

Adversity’s classroom always touches the soul. Adversity, stress, and pressure according to Perkins, teach us our:

  1. Limits.
  2. Strengths.
  3. Weaknesses.

Leaders blindly press forward in agony – victims of ego, stubbornness, or fear – when they don’t know their limits, can’t see their strengths, and won’t acknowledge their weaknesses. Worse yet, their ignorance makes others suffer. For example, leaders who don’t own their weaknesses never leverage the best in their teams.

Adversity is a mirror, if you dare look. Dennis said, looking back on his Plebe experience, “I had tenacity.” The benefits of adversity don’t emerge till after, when you rest and see yourself. Thinking back – self-reflection – enables leaders to move forward with new confidence and competence.

Leading yourself through adversity enables you to lead others. The roadblocks are bitterness, anger, denial, fear, and blame. Gateways include faith, vulnerability, honesty, and courage.

The times when you don’t thrive – when you just survive – reveal and make you. Welcome hardship when it comes. Great leadership emerges from the fires of adversity.


What lessons has adversity taught you?

What suggestions can you offer those currently in the fire?


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