How well do you tolerate adversity?

written by Erica Quam

Kerry and I had just moved to Bellingham - back in 2011.  We went for our first backpacking trip together up in the Mt. Baker backcountry.  We planned to do a loop around an area called the Chain Lakes.  It wasn't a super long loop - just enough for us to get a taste of the area and amazing views of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan.  We were about 500 yards from our campsite for the night when Kerry took a bad step from snow onto some slippery willow.  She knew immediately that it was a break.  Fortunately, it wasn't a compound fracture, but it certainly was not something she would be walking out on.  It was getting late and we had no cell service.  We were going to have to spend the night.

My focus turned immediately on getting her leg splinted and treat her for shock.  We were on a steep incline down to the lake - so it wasn't an ideal place to camp.  Our options were limited - so we did the best we could.  Kerry had to pull herself backwards up the hill a bit to a snowy ledge - just large enough for our tent. 

During moments like this, it may be easy to get frustrated or question the universe as to why this had happened.  Instead, I focused on one task at a time and Kerry just took one breath at a time - until she was lifted out by a helicopter the next day - around 2pm in the afternoon. While she was waiting, she took the time to take in the views and meditate on the mountain.  She has reflected back on that experience a lot and believes that it has made her a better athletic trainer and massage therapist.  Her reaction to this challenge made all the difference in the world to the outcome of her situation.

When challenges arise, you have a CHOICE as to how you react to the situation. Your reaction to whatever comes up in your life determines the outcome - not the event itself.

As you walk through your day, there are always obstacles that arise. Some are simple and straightforward and others are more involved. However, no matter what comes up, we always have a choice to respond for the outcome that we want.  

This is something that takes practice. The more you tolerate the small challenges that come up, the stronger you will be when you face something more serious.  

As a leader, you can begin to use the adversity that comes up as "teachable moments" for your team or your group. Start with some small challenges. Afterwards, take time to debrief and talk about how they handled them as a group. Discuss what went well and what specific things that they may be able to improve upon. Talk about who kept a positive outlook and who got stuck and really frustrated.  

If you can get in the habit of talking about these smaller challenges, then the group can learn and grow. They can begin to build their tolerance for things that may come up down the road. Be a leader that helps your group embrace adversity as something that will help them evolve into something even better, & stronger than they could if everything was a walk in the park. 

Tolerance for adversity is a leadership skill that you can improve upon - if you choose to work on it.


Think back to an adversity that you have faced in your life.

  • What was your response?
  • What was the outcome?
  • Is there anything that you could have done differently in your response to improve the outcome?
  • What is one takeaway you can apply in the future?