Most people have been through adversity at least once in their lifetime. Marcus Aurelius Anderson, adversity expert, speaker, mindset coach, and author of the bestselling book, The Gift of Adversity, joins Dr. Diane Hamilton as he dives into his story of extreme adversity and how he helped himself get through it. Marcus talks about the importance of understanding individualized adversity and how you can overcome it. Due to the global health crisis, people are forced out of their daily lives. Diane and Marcus share some tips you can do while you’re at home to help you get through this difficult time, and how you can harness this to your advantage and facilitate growth.
I’m glad you joined us because we have Marcus Aurelius Anderson. Marcus suffered a severe spine injury that left him paralyzed and after dying on the operating table twice, the surgeon saved his life and told him he’d never walk again. He is a top adversity expert and I want him to tell you his story.
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Living Through Hardships: The Gift Of Adversity With Marcus Aurelius Anderson
I am with Marcus Aurelius Anderson. He is the World’s #1 Authority on The Gift of Adversity. He’s a professional keynote and TEDx speaker. He’s the host of the number one new and noteworthy Conscious Millionaire Epic Achiever show. He’s the best-selling author of The Gift of Adversity. He’s a top leadership and mindset coach and proud veteran. It’s nice to have you here, Marcus, and thank you for your service.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor to be here with you.
This is going to be an interesting show. I watched your TED Talk. You have gone through some serious adversity so I could see why you would focus on helping others who have done the same. I would like to get your background so people can understand why you are an adversity expert.
Everybody goes through adversity and adversity is not a competition. It was the foundation for me to have self-awareness and to do the deep work necessary. I joined the military at 38 years old and when I was in the military, I was in the Light Infantry Division and we were preparing to deploy. I suffered a severe spinal injury that left me paralyzed from the neck down. In an instant, I went from preparing for war on the battlefield to this war within myself. It stopped me in my tracks and slapped me in the face. It made me take a look at my life and that’s a big opportunity to reflect if we are able to do it. Of course, like many people, I went through a lot of anger, denial, depression and all those stages of grief. That was my beginning of starting to understand when I could learn from this and what that took. It was a difficult journey, but I’m glad where I am now because of it.
That’s a horrific thing for anybody to go through. I can’t even fathom what that’s like. You joined the military at a late age because I know my nephew joined it at 34 and he was pushing it. What’s the oldest you can be joining the military?
Thirty-five is normally the limit, but when I went, this was in 2011, they allowed me to get an age waiver if I fit out the criteria. What happened was my great uncle, who was my biggest role model, passed away and that was between that and then I went through a divorce and some adversity that I dealt with. After he passed away, he was in Special Forces in Vietnam. He was a lifer in the military and I was a pallbearer for him. After I was there, they folded the flag up, and played Taps, they handed the flag to my great aunt and said, “Thank you for your sacrifice. We’re sorry for your loss.” That was the real catalyst that made me realize that I wanted to join the military for a long time. I would like to go into his footsteps if I was able to, so I went down with the recruiter and said, “What can we do? What’s the age limit?” It went from there.
How exactly did you get injured? Was it while you were in service? Can you give me more on that story?If your mind is strong enough, it will push your body to do a lot. Click To Tweet
I ruptured the disc between C5 and C6 while we were preparing to deploy and it was the attrition of all the training because you’re walking with 100 pounds worth of gear on your back and another 50 pounds worth of gear in your body armor for 25 miles or so. You’re doing quick rope rappelling out of helicopters and things like that because we were getting ready to go to Afghanistan. The sheer attrition of that was building up and then eventually, I had things like neuropathy. My hands and my feet had numbness, but as a soldier, especially as an older soldier, your goal is always to push your body and if your mind is strong enough, it will push your body to do a lot.
All these things that were telling me that my neck, hands, and feet hurt, I can’t feel these parts of my extremities. I attributed that to being in the cold and to what was going on. It sounds silly but when you’re in the military and you’re preparing to deploy, that is your primary objective and everything else falls away. This is part of it. I have people dependent on me and we’re getting ready to go so I don’t have the luxury of saying to myself, “This is difficult.” You continue to push through but eventually, I get to the point where clearly, I wasn’t even able to roll out of bed. My neck would articulate a little bit, but the rest of my body would not and that was the first indication that this was more than just soreness from trying to train.
You talked in your TED Talk that around your 40th birthday, you woke up broke, bedridden, and paralyzed. It’s how you began this. You’re telling me you start with these symptoms and eventually, you’re in bed and can’t move. Did they tell you that you would never walk again? What was the prognosis?
Of course, they don’t know what’s wrong with me so they take me down to the hospital and just like in the movies, they’ve got me on the gurney. They’re running with a small army of people towards the MRI to figure out what’s going on and they’ve got a neurologist and cardiologist poking and prodding me the entire time. They find out that that disc ruptured, and people hear that but they hear bulging discs. When a disc ruptures and breaks, the center of that disc presses into your spinal cord. That’s the same nerve root level and same injury level where Christopher Reeve was injured if people remember that. There was no communication between my brainstem and the rest of my body. That’s when they said, “We’re going to prepare you for the operation.” I didn’t even realize that’s what they were going to do. They removed all the discs and they removed all of the debris.
In the process of doing that, I flatlined a couple of times because they’re getting so close to that part of my brain that was controlling the breathing and all that. They stick a bunch of titanium in my neck and fuse C5 and C6. Both of those vertebrae are completely fused, and they took me through the operation. As we’re preparing to get into the operating room, I’m asking them over and over again. I have a chiropractic background. I was a year and a half away from my chiropractic degree. I’m asking them technical questions about neuropathy and complete ankylosis of the spine and what that’s going to do to my range of motion. They’re like, “You’re getting ahead of yourself. Let’s get through this and we’ll worry about rehab on the other side of it.” I said, “That means once they fuse these, I’m going to be good?” It’s just silence, which is not what you want to hear when you’re getting ready to go under the knife.
In hindsight, I realized that that’s not what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re supposed to just help me survive, and then when I wake up in the ICU, the doctor comes in, the surgeon is like, “We lost you for a minute.” I didn’t understand what he meant at first. I was like, “How do you lose me on this? I’m this big guy right here.” They said, “No, you flatlined a couple of times.” Essentially, he says, “The good news is you get to live to tell the tale. The bad news is this is what you’re left with. You’re not going to have any use of your hands or your legs. I want to tell you that now so that you don’t even have any hope because that would be irresponsible.” This sounds silly as a civilian now, but as a soldier, in my mind, I’m thinking, “You just told me that I died on the table twice. This walking thing shouldn’t be a big deal.” I was in denial, but after about a week in the ICU, they took me out and put me back in my unit to convalesce, that’s when it was like, “This is real. This is not something that I will just hope will get better.” That was my real beginning to journey within myself to figure out what I do know and where do I go from here.
The closest thing that I can even relate to this is having an epidural where you’re numb and you can’t move your legs. That’s such a creepy feeling because you’re stuck. Does that make you panic when you eventually realized you can’t move and why just your hands and not your arms?
It was all in my arms. It was from the neck down. It’s difficult to put your mind around it and that’s what it was because I thought that I could just get over it and as a soldier, you have to feel invincible. When I’m 38 years old, I was doing stuff with guys that were half my age and doing it better than they were. I was strong mentally. I was like, “Once I believe, I can do this.” When you start to realize that this is what you’re left with and they give you meds when you’re watching Netflix for hours at a time, that’s when you start to reflect on your life. It’s different because we all know that we’re all going to pass at some point. We all have an expiration date, but it’s different when you’re 40 years old. You realize that you may have another 40 or 50 years of your life, but you won’t be able to get out of a bed or you won’t be able to physically move. Going from being physically active to not even being able to take care of myself, there was a shame and there were all these other things attached to that in addition to, as a person and an entrepreneur, for example, we base a lot of our identity on our capacity.
I was thinking something similar to the Coronavirus. Everybody is feeling helpless and not being able to go out. If this is so hard on us, imagine jail. You go to the next step, what if you were paralyzed? This must not be hard for you as compared to other people, compared to what you went through to have to stay at home. What are you telling people when they’re feeling sorry for themselves because they can’t go out of their house?
Adversity is not something where it’s like, “Your life sucks, but look at mine.” I detest it when I hear somebody express that they’re like, “I had a rough day.” “You want to hear mine? My day was like this.” It became this competition. They know somebody and it’s like, “I know this person who had a worse day.” It’s not that way at all. Adversity for each of us is individualized, especially in what’s going on with the pandemic. This is happening to everybody across the world. This is difficult. For people that have never had to experience anything difficult in their life, of course, this is a big slap in the face. I have a stepdaughter. She was born around 9/11 so she had no idea what that was like. She didn’t understand the housing crisis in 2008. For her, it’s not being able to have a graduation, senior prom, and not being able to see your friends.
This is a conversation I’ve had with her where if I’m as the military guys, I’ll be like, “Suck it up, buttercup. There are a lot more things that could happen in your life.” That’s not what she needs to hear. I need to be empathetic. I need to be loving for her. For everybody that’s reading, if you’re trying to cope, understand that we’re all in this together, the world will not stop turning, and we will get through this. Having said that, there is a lot out of our control. If you focus on the things that you can control, that will make you feel more empowered as opposed to feeling like a victim because if we focus on everything that we cannot control, it becomes maddening. That creates anxiety. Before you know it, especially if you’re cooped up, that’s when you start feeling all these additional pressures that frankly, we can take care of if we can say to ourselves, “What’s the positive thing in this? What are we thinking about? How many people have complained that they haven’t been able to read a book?” You’ve got some time.
It is interesting to look at the perspective of injury. I think of Stephen Hawking often and his outlook, and I listened to his books about how he went through what he went through. It’s not like he was born that way. Of course, he lost his ability to do things as he got older. It’s got to be challenging to have that outlook where you don’t freak out by certain things. I imagine if I went through what you went through, I don’t know how well I would handle it. My father was born blind, but if that had happened to him as he had aged, it’d be way harder. You’re thinking at this time that this is something that could be forever for you. When did you find out that maybe it wasn’t?
I went through about 3 or 4 months of suicidal depression, but I couldn’t even act on it because of my physicality. That’s when I felt completely disempowered and that’s when I finally realized, “I have two choices here. I can either stay angry for the rest of my life, play the victim, and be venomous around anybody that’s comes around me or I can try to shift my perspective on this thing and use my mind to create a different cognitive reframe.” It’s easy to say that when you’re not in it. It’s easy to be philosophical when you’re not the one that’s in that. What I had to do was I eventually took myself out of the equation. In Zen, they do this, and I said, “Did anybody, anywhere in the world, benefit from me being hurt?” Of course, I wasn’t happy with where I was.
That’s when I had the realization like you were mentioning the TED Talk, “Had I been deployed in Afghanistan, had I been with my team, have we been in the mountains on a mission and this had happened to me, for every one man who was injured in combat, it takes two to pull him to safety.” That was my big epiphany. That’s when I realized, “My team would have been put in danger. My squad would have been put in danger. They would have had to fly a Chinook helicopter into a hot zone to come and get me.” When I did that, I was able to itemize that there were 30 other people at least whose lives would have been put in harm’s way had I suffered that while I was deployed. I believe that this injury would have happened irrespective of where it was in the world. Once I was able to do that, that’s when I sat back and I was like, “I’m lucky.”For every one man who gets injured in combat, it takes two to pull him to safety. Click To Tweet
I always think of the movie, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. All I can do is blank and that to me would be the absolute worst. As you’re lying there because you can’t do anything else, did part of you get upset thinking maybe they pushed you too hard in boot camp or wherever you were training? Do you feel responsible or somebody else could have been more responsible? Does that not enter your mind?
It never entered my mind because honestly, when you sign that piece of paper, you know what could happen to you. Frankly, my drive was that I was doing this for me. The other part is I realized there was a lot that I could not control, and that’s why this dovetails beautifully with what people feel. The only thing that I could control was my mind and even then, I could not control that. I’ve been doing martial arts since I was eleven years old. I went back to what they talked about in Zen and meditation, which is I can control my breathing and I will control that incredibly well. I went from this shallow breathing and this angry breathing to this deep breathing, which puts us into more of a calm state of mind. It uses the parasympathetic nervous system.
Once I was in that state where I was able to be more cognizant of what was going on, then all of a sudden, I can start trying to say, “What else can I do? Can I think of something peaceful? Is there something that I can find to be grateful for in this hardship?” It wasn’t something that happened overnight but over months of trying to find something. It’s like, “I can be grateful for my bed, even though I may never get out of it. I’m grateful for this room, even though I may never be able to leave it.”
You have a calm disposition and you come across that way. In your TED Talk, you are calm, and I like that. That’s a good quality for easing yourself out of some of these things where somebody like me might be higher on the sympathetic compared to parasympathetic. My sympathetic system is on overdrive. Do you think that your demeanor changed or have you always been calmer? Do you think that you’re somebody that would have handled this better than somebody like me who is 100-mile an hour personality?
The thing about adversity is it offers you no other choice. When there’s no other choice, the choice is simple. There was a sympathetic nervous system stimulation where I was mad at everybody and I was mad at myself. Every moment that I had wasted before that, every nap that I’ve taken and every additional episode on Netflix that I’ve watched, I have regretted it because I realized that I could have been putting that time towards something that was more important to me that was truly a priority. You learn when you can’t walk and you can’t get out of bed that the amount of money that you have, the car that you drive, and the house that you live in doesn’t matter. The amount of money that you have in the bank will simply be a number on a computer screen or a slip of paper and that cannot buy you more time or physical capacity. If everything that society values is truly without much worth, it makes you ask, what is important?
As we’re asking ourselves that, what should people spend their time doing while they can’t do what they normally would do instead of watching Netflix, Tiger King or whatever you’re watching? Should we still do that and something else or stick away from binge-watching? Can we have a little bit of both?
We can and it depends on the individual. There are going to be some people that will want to completely be distracted and that’s okay. Eventually, there’s a point where you have to ask yourself, “I’ve always said that I wanted to do X, Y, and Z if I have more time, so I mentioned the stack of books.” There are some people that may be questioning what their professional capacity should be. If you have any entrepreneurial spirit, this is your time to do all your research. If you were talking about spring cleaning for the house, let’s do it. If you asked to be able to spend more time with your family, you’ve got it. If you were going to Starbucks too much or eating out too often, you don’t have to worry about that. You have to spend more time in that arena where you’re close to the family, but at the same time, this is our time also to reflect on what we want to do and what’s important. In each person, that will be different, but the question that you can ask yourself is, “If you woke up paralyzed from the neck down, what would you wish you would have accomplished with your life?” That will put it in perspective.
It’s different at different ages to what you would come up with. There are different times in your life. Things that you don’t even know you’re going to want to do, you end up doing. Each door you open can lead to many interesting things and you’ve opened a lot of doors through this. I’m sure you never thought you would be the World’s #1 Authority on The Gift of Adversity, give a TED Talk about it, have a Conscious Millionaire Epic Achiever show or have the best-selling book about it, and all those things. It’s interesting how things snowball once you open doors. Since I’m an expert in the area of curiosity, I love that people explore more. This is a good time to look into things that we’ve never thought about doing before. I’m curious about some of the stuff that this has opened up for you. I mentioned some of them. Let’s talk about a couple of them here. The Conscious Millionaire Epic Achiever show, for example. What do you talk about on that? Is this aimed at leaders? Tell me more.
The thing was I did the TEDx Talk, The Gift of Adversity, first and then the book came out not long after that. What I found was people liked the notion because that phrase, The Gift of Adversity, is bifurcating, either you get it or you don’t seem to understand it. I also had a lot of people that would gravitate towards it if they were going through hardship, which is the idea. I didn’t want to just glorify adversity. I didn’t want to just romanticize it. I wanted to say, “This is something that you have to go through, but once you’re through it, we get stronger and better.” That hindsight, once we’re through some hardship, is whenever we learn the lesson because when we’re in the heat of battle, it’s impossible to have the compunction to say, “In about six months, this is going to be great.” Especially if we’re going through this, we don’t know how long it’s going to be before another side of this.
What I found was creating Epic Achiever. I wanted to talk to other people that were in those places. My experience has been this. Every great entrepreneur, Olympian, athlete, and leader has been through tremendous hardship and the thing that separated them was the ability to take that hardship and harness it as a catalyst. Other people stay dormant because of it. That’s what I’ve done. I’ve been able to talk to these best-selling authors and I spoke to Ed Mylett. He’s worth $500,000 million. These are all people that have built these tremendous, incredible bodies of work yet, they’ve all gone through tremendous hardship, and that’s what I do. It’s personal development or it’s self-improvement. We get to hear what these people went through.
They give pragmatic advice, tactical stuff, and a 24-hour challenge. Near the end, I ask them to unpack their gift of adversity and that’s when we get to see that we all go through this. There are a lot of people that you may look up on high as we put them on a pedestal and if we do that, it makes it easy for us to say, “They can do it.” Because we put them on this pedestal, what I try to do is humanize them and show, “These are people that bleed like us. These are people that have either gone through extraordinary things in their lives and have been able to channel it or have been incredibly disciplined and said, ‘I’m not going to give up.’”
What are some of the tactical, pragmatic types of advice or things that you’ve heard from people on your show that you think would help people?
There are so many. The big thing is controlling what you can control and understanding that there’s a lot of stuff that’s out of our control. The other thing that I find is that even in times like this, people that are leaders and high achievers are looking for opportunities within this. Whether it be a business opportunity, maybe this is your time to pivot. Maybe you need to do more online stuff and you wanted to put that online course together. This is a great time to do it. Maybe you want to channel what you’re doing with some of the stuff on social media in a different way. Maybe you want to go the other direction, try to get away from that noise and start trying to see how you connect with people. For me, there are a lot of people that were trying to put things out where they all of a sudden came up with some course and they’re preying on people’s fear. What I did was I went out and I did a bunch of live calls and interviews where I gave my material away for free because I want these people to have something and I want them to understand.
The big thing that I found with all of them is the thing that I’ve always talked about, which is the ability to reframe what’s going on. I’m sure that your readers are familiar with Viktor Frankl and Man’s Search for Meaning, but he says famously, “Between stimulus and response, there is a gap. Within that gap lies our ability to decide.” Even with what’s going on with a pandemic or what happened to me with my injury, an event is strictly neutral until we give it meaning. If I see something as a hardship, I decide what that means to me. That decision creates emotion and that emotion evokes action potentially. If we see adversity as hardship, it’s going to be disempowering and we’re going to be fearful. We don’t want to do it and we want to avoid it. Every time adversity is introduced in a cycle, that becomes this adversity perception cycle, but if we look at adversity as a way to get stronger, that’s what let’s go ahead and do.The thing about adversity is it offers you no other choice. When there's no other choice, the choice is simple. Click To Tweet
In your situation, you are able to get the ability to walk and do things back. Do you think you’d look at this any differently if you hadn’t?
I don’t believe so because, frankly, there’s no other choice. That’s the reality for it because if we look at it and we feel like we’re angry all the time and we’re a victim, that’s what it will be. People talk about the reticular activating system. People talk about all these different things where whatever we decide is going to be our focus, it’s what we find. The classic idea of the blue car. If you’re looking for a blue car online and you want to buy one, all of a sudden, you see blue cars everywhere. They’re still the same number of blue cars. It’s just that we are more aware of them.
You have the classic optimists or pessimists. If we’re around a person that’s optimistic, that’s going to naturally raise your emotion into that place. If you have a person who’s pessimistic, when they enter the room, you can see everybody like, “Don’t look up.” That’s what happens. It comes down to choice and then it comes down to reinforcing that choice with the belief systems that we have, especially when you’re in an environment where you can’t do anything else. Those are the small choices that will empower you, especially when we feel stagnant and we don’t know what’s going on.
I meet a lot of people who seem to always look for something to complain about. They’re always looking for the negative side of either it’s in the situation or somebody else. They have this incapability of saying, “It is what it is,” and they have to go to the dark side of everything. How do you help people get out of that?
That’s the thing. I cannot drag somebody to excellence kicking and screaming without their desire to do so, but if they do want to do it, we have to understand what’s the cause of that. If we’re looking strictly at symptomatology, we can try to address that, but we have to get down to the causation. Maybe that person came from a place where that was necessary. Maybe that person needed to look at other worst-case scenarios continually to survive, whether it be a situation, trauma or whatever the case may be. Once we’ve unpacked that, you can tell that person, “You don’t have to be pessimistic about everything.” “I get it. Things are bad. You don’t have to tell me. You don’t have to tell me the latest stat, what you saw on Facebook, what you heard about this other country and what they’re doing about this. That doesn’t help me.” You have to decide what you want to do with this.
It’s almost like I’m carrying this heavy load and then verbally, I’m intentionally putting even more weight on my back by complaining about it. That doesn’t help me. I’m working against myself. If you can tell them, “You have 100 mental units of energy. I can either take half of those mental units and apply them towards the things that are going to slow me down, which is being pessimistic, aggravating, and talking about these things that are against us or you can take that mental energy and apply it towards the reticular activating system looking for opportunity.” That takes a long time. They can’t just do it overnight. They have to want to do it and then they have to be around people to do it continually.
There’s so much that’s a habit and there’s so much this tied into emotional intelligence. I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence and I deal with a lot of soft skills-based things. I found that even just our environment has a huge impact on some of the stuff I research, including curiosity and part of it is social media can create a lot of fear from all this. Do you think we spend too much time listening to the negatives and that can have an impact?
Look at the motivation. If we’re looking at the TV, for better or for worse, you have to understand they make money off of attention. If it bleeds, it leads and good news doesn’t sell. You want to be the biggest and the 24/7 news cycle that’s talking about how bad these things are. Social media is the same way. There’s a lot of FOMO and a lot of these other things and comparisons. They always say that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, but that’s not true. We are the average of the five emotions that those people evoke within us the most. If you are around people that are driven, loving, kind, they want the most from you and they’re trying to do everything they can in an altruistic mentality, that’s what you will naturally glean. If it’s all these people that are pessimistic and they’re looking for the bad stuff that is not going to let you win no matter what, that’s what’s going to drag you down.
The thing is, those five “people” are not necessarily people. It can be the five things that you see continually on social media or it can be the five negative things that are continuing to reinforce the people’s content that you follow. The choice is ours. There’s plenty of stimuli that will corroborate whatever your belief system is. Like you’re saying about curiosity, many things that we do is cyclical, but if we can break that cycle, stop it intentionally and say to ourselves, “I’m not going to do this,” or “I don’t choose to do this,” or “I don’t tolerate this thinking. This doesn’t help me. This isn’t making me move forward.” Those are the kinds of things that break that cycle. They allow that gap between stimulus and response. Within that gap is our ability to be curious.
That’s what I trained organizations to do. When people find out the things that keep them from being curious, that helps because then you recognize, “This is holding me back.” There are four things: fear, assumptions, technology and the environment. You’re talking a lot about assumptions and those are the things that we tell ourselves, “I’m not going to like this. This is stupid. I’m going to look bad. I never wanted to do that because it was this or that.” There is all this dialogue, a monologue in our head, that we talk to ourselves all day. Everybody does. You have this voice that we can hold on to and I’m sure it was challenging as you were going through your recovery process to get that voice to be more positive. I’m curious how long you ended up being paralyzed and how you came out of it.
It was four months before I got any movement back into my hands and the thing was for me, that big epiphany was that gratitude piece. The thing is people talk about gratitude and they’ve got little journals, and they’re doing all this stuff, and that’s fine. I’m not trying to pooh-pooh that. What happens in my experience is that people are not genuinely doing gratitude in the way that in my mind they could. They’re just half-heartedly doing it, and that means that they write down the things they like. “I’m grateful for this. I’m grateful for my family. I’m grateful for my job. I’m grateful for whatever.” The problem is that it’s essentially like a Christmas list or a wish list. What that means is I focus on the positive, but on the negative stuff, there’s a lot of stuff within those confines that we can learn a lot from.
When I work with people, I say, “I want you to use gratitude, and that’s fine, but I also want you to write down the things that pissed you off. I want you to look at those things and I want you to look back on it and say, ‘Why did that make me mad?’ I want you to look at it and say, ‘How did that make me look different? How did that make me look at things from a different angle? Where did that create curiosity? Where did that force me to do something outside of my comfort zone that I didn’t want to do?’” That is an advantage.
That ties into a lot of the research I’m doing for perception because it’s challenging for people to look at things. You mentioned empathy, which is a big part of emotional intelligence. I look at our perspective of everything as a combination of EQ, emotional intelligence or quotient and CQ for curiosity quotient, but also the CQ for cultural quotient, taking a look at all these things from different perspectives. For us to write down what pisses us off or all these things, how helpful is it if we don’t get an outside perspective because we don’t know what we don’t know sometimes?
That’s exactly it. If you had that thing that you’ve written down that aggravates you, you look back on it after the fact and the emotions have settled because for every single one of this, emotions assassinate the truth. If we go through something in that emotional place, it’s hard for us to be objective. If I can come back to that thing that I wrote down that pissed me off because somebody cut me off at traffic, I’m brushing my teeth and I look back on that, I was like, “That wasn’t a big deal. I thought it was at the time.” That gives us that additional third-person perspective. I can step outside of it and look at my own blind spots. For many of us, if we’re tied into that, it’s hard for us to step back and be objective. I have this thing that I call the Adversity Scale. Zero is like heaven on earth and ten is the worst thing you’ve ever been through in your life.We are the average of the five emotions that people evoke within us the most. Click To Tweet
A lot of people will build things up in their minds to make it much worse than what it is. If that person cuts me off in traffic and I’m mad, I need to step back and say, “From 0 to 10, where’s this?” That’s maybe a 2 or 3. Compared to what’s going on in the world, it’s probably nowhere on that scale. For me, I look at what my ten is and I look at whatever is in front of me and I say, “Is this going to kill me or paralyze me? Probably not. Now I can attack this with as much vigor and intention as I can.” Even with what’s going on. For a lot of people, we’re in emotional hardship, spiritual hardship, financial, or whatever it is. This will be some people’s ten. Once we get through this, this will be their opportunity to say, “I am capable of more. I can’t be more empathetic. I can’t be more present. I can’t be more conscious of what’s going on.” Once we’re in that place, they have the opportunity to continue to evolve from that.
We always hear, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” and it’s all small stuff thing. It’s all perceptions to some extent. I can remember going to lunch with a woman who came devastated and I thought, “Her daughter must have died,” or something horrible. My mind goes to ten. I asked, “What happened?” She had an orange tree she planted and it got some frost on it. It was something. To my mind, it was zero. I’m thinking, “How do you let yourself go over the deep end for something like that and a whole scale of things?” I meet people like that all the time, who are looking to say, “This is so awful.” I’ve even had family members and I’ll say, “Scott, it’s not a big deal. Just do it.” They’ll say, “I’m not like you.” They’ll justify that it’s okay to have this be so overwhelming. How do you get through to that?
The people that are offended easily should be offended more often. That’s what happens. Before what’s going on with the pandemic, there were a lot of people that would come to me and they’re like, “I’ve never been through something as hard as you have. How can I get stronger?” I would always tell them to employ micro adversities, whether it be fasting, a cold shower, a difficult workout or whatever to build that mental resilience. For people, a lot of them have never been through any true hardship and that’s why this is so shocking for them. They need to understand that this is something that we don’t have any other choice. you’re going to have to wrap your head around in one way or another.
If you can start implementing these small micro adversities in the process, that will make you stronger. If you can say to yourself, “I’m not going to have my first cup of coffee until an hour later than normal.” That’s not much, but that’s enough to make you see, “I don’t necessarily need this right now.” If you are able to delay your gratification, whether it be from discipline or looking after somebody else by being empathetic, that gives you that capacity. Adversity is the thing that is a natural law. It doesn’t care about your opinion. It shows up unannounced without apology and it makes you drop everything else you’re doing to give it your full undivided attention. It knows your full potential and it demands the most from you whenever it knocks on the door. That’s why we have to have that idea now before we go through real hardship. Because people have never experienced this hardship before and they haven’t prepared themselves mentally for it, this is catching a lot of people sideways.
I imagine not getting your packages delivered in 24 hours, but having a month to wait is a micro way of learning a little bit. It is an unsettling time. I’ve lived through a lot of crazy things. I’ve nearly died several times from things but I’ve never come close to what you did where you died on the table. I’ve had health issues and different things. I’ve probably been through more adversity than people would ever have guessed. I’m one of those people that don’t wear my heart on my sleeve. It’s not that I’m holding it in. It’s just like, what good does it do to dwell on it? It’s hard for people and they get scared when it comes to something like this where they’re feeling out of control. Control what you can control, but how do you get your mind away from thinking that this is frightening? A lot of people are frightened that it’s going to get worse. It probably will for a while, but it always gets better. For them, when they’re starting to stir-crazy over being locked in, what kinds of things are you telling leaders to help them overcome adversity? Are there any other tips or tricks you want to share?
There are plenty. The biggest thing that we have to understand is that when you’re leading, everybody’s looking to you to decide and dictate the pace, but the reality is, everybody’s afraid. The people that tell you that they’re not either crazy or just dumb. What we have to do is be able to dance with that fear and get used to it as being something that’s omnipresent. You have to be able to look at adversity and say, “I see you, but I’m not afraid of you. I’m going to continue to move forward, doing what I need to do.” Understanding that fear never goes away shows us that this is the opportunity for us to be brave. Fear is contagious, but so is courage if we so choose. To be tactical about what we can do is to bind together to be there for each other and to help everybody understand, “I’m afraid, too, but I understand that the fear is not going to help me do what I need to do so I will control what I can control.” That breeds more of that belief in other people.
If you’re stuck up in your house and you’re going stir-crazy, there will be a point where eventually you feel like you’re about to break. At that moment, that’s your opportunity to decide if you want to use it to channel it to go stronger or if you’re going to let it be the thing that breaks the camel’s back as it were. These are the things that shake us to our core and wake us up. That shows us what’s truly a priority. There are a lot of people realizing that 24-hour delivery from Amazon is not the end of the world. It’s inconvenient, but the reality is most of us are not even uncomfortable. It’s just inconvenient for us. Most of what we are dealing with are not even pain. It’s just discomfort.
A lot of people have small businesses. My husband is a plastic surgeon and he can’t do any surgery. Who would have ever thought that that would happen? It’s something you’d never prepared for. A lot of people are worried because they think that they’ve been proactive and had the foresight, but there are certain things you can’t think of unless you’re Bill Gates and have predicted it or seen Bill Gates talk. A lot of us had no idea that this was a potential thing since they’ve never dealt with anything to this level. The Spanish flu, which is the flu that made my dad blind when my grandmother was pregnant at that time. You don’t know what to expect because it’s unprecedented in some respects.
Small business owners are freaked out, but of all the people I’ve ever interviewed on my show who have been successful have all had something horrible happen to them, like their companies crashed. We need to look at failure as a learning lesson and not so much as failure. It’s something that just didn’t work. Do you think that we label it too negatively? If something doesn’t work well, then you try something else. This was Thomas Edison’s famous line. He found 100 ways to make the light bulb not work or whatever until he found the right way. I know I botched that completely. Sometimes, we have to fail to succeed.
Adversity is a gift because it forces us to look at our weaknesses. The physical manifestation of adversity is an adversary, an opponent, and that’s the person that’s going to make you work. That’s the person who if you’re sparring, they’re going to try to take your head off. That’s the person that’s going to pull any punches and if they see weakness, they’re going to exploit it. We have to be grateful for those things because they make us evolve and change. We’re talking about small businesses. People are pivoting from the initial pivot because they’re learning, iterating, and going through it. If we stay here and just expect something to help us, it’s not going to work. We can’t just hope that this is going to all of a sudden magically do everything for us and we’re going to go back to what we were before. The new normal, we don’t know what that is but we do know that there is not going to be anything like this beforehand.
If we look at adversity in the United States in the twentieth century, 1918, Spanish flu. That was also World War I. Even in the first of the century, there was a bank crisis, we went into the Depression, we went into World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War. We continue to go through all these things. All this stuff has happened to us, but we have to understand that we have survived every single one of these things as a species. We’ve gotten stronger because of it but we can’t see that because we’re in it. When you’re in the fray, it’s impossible to understand how this is going to be a great idea. I’m an outlier because I do. I’m like, “This is a great time.” Not that I’m happy that people are suffering. I’m not thinking that, but I’m looking at the bright side and where we’re going to be on the other side of this. It’s almost like when a child puts their finger on a hot stove. The natural inclination for us is to get away from the hardship as quickly as possible and put as much distance between us and that hardship.
For me, when I was injured, I could not get away from the adversity. I had to sit there with it and see, “The wound is open. What can I learn? What can I glean?” I had to take that all the way down to that conscious level of saying, “I wasn’t truly being grateful. I was being arrogant. I had hubris.” That arrogance is what was blocking me from having true 360 gratitude, bulletproof 100% gratitude. Once I started to see my adversity as a gift instead of a curse and I was grateful for everything in my life, that’s whenever I started getting movement back in my hands. For me, I wanted to walk desperately, but that was 4 or 5 steps away. The idea was I had to find that true gratitude, unblock that and then move forward.
I picture the Regarding Henry movie. Is that what you went through? He got shot, he had to come back from it, and he had to learn to walk again. Did they make you go through all that learning to walk again stuff or no?
They didn’t make me. I had to. You’re holding on to the bars and it was two steps. One-step and then step up. I went to Army Mountain Warfare School so I’m used to climbing all this stuff, but those two steps are harder for me than anything else in my life simply because there’s perception and, “I should be able to do this yet, I can’t even get my foot to elevate to get to that point.” I’m holding on to these bars and I met with everybody. I feel embarrassed and I don’t want people looking at me. I’ve got this big neck brace on and, “I should be able to do this, and I’ve done this before. Why is this so hard?” Even within that, I was still grateful because being at that place, I was at least out of the bed.
What you’re able to accomplish is amazing. You’re talking about how we need to look at some of our weaknesses and I often have people do a personal SWOT analysis to look at these things when I’m going through teaching them curiosity. Sometimes, we have to look at our weaknesses and come up with plans to overcome some of these things. As we think about unprecedented times, we were able to solve polio and some things that when we didn’t have half of it, even a lot more than half of the innovation that we have. I’m excited to see what innovative ideas will come from what we have to fix from this crisis. As we didn’t have social media when I entered the workplace many years ago, what will we have the next big thing because of this? It will send the world in a whole different direction that people could be the next big guy or girl to create this great technology.Adversity is a gift because it forces us to look at our weaknesses. Click To Tweet
That’s my frustration a bit when I’m sitting home sometimes and I can’t go out like I normally would or hike like I normally would on weekends or whatever. What could I be creating or adding to the world to fix this problem that I have the skills to do? I am not a surgeon or a doctor or whatever it is that they need in the medical field, but all of us have certain skills and abilities. I hope that everybody’s taking the time to look into what they could add to help things. Could they make masks? Whatever it is that we could do.
A lot of companies are offering their production facilities to create new masks or protection equipment and that type of thing. As we think about what everybody’s going through, what you can do to help other people might be an important part. What you do is help people to get past some of this stuff and to see it in a new light, which I love, because that ties into perception. We all are having a bit of a perception check with everything that’s going on. A lot of people would like to know how they learn more from you. I know you speak, give keynotes and all that. If somebody’s reading this and they want to find out more about you, get your book, and maybe hire you to speak, how would they find you?
They could go to my website, MarcusAureliusAnderson.com. You can find my book The Gift of Adversity on Amazon. My TEDx Talk is for you to get to adversity. If you’ve read our conversation, try to connect to me on LinkedIn and say that you’ve read it. That way, I know who you are and we can connect. You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I’m not doing a lot of speaking in person, but I am doing a lot of talks to try to help people, whether they be Zoom or live calls or whatever the case may be. The reality is that we have to understand that we are only as strong as the adversity that we overcome. This is going to be difficult and there is going to be a lot of work involved, but we will get through this. If it’s a skillset you don’t feel that you have that can help other people, just being there, having space for them and showing up is maybe enough to help somebody through this.
Marcus, that was an important thing to say because I agree that there’s so much that we can do. We don’t even realize it and just thinking of what those things are can help. I enjoyed having you on the show. Thank you for sharing all of your great ideas.
Thank you. It was an honor to be here with you.
I enjoyed it and you’re welcome.
I’d like to thank Marcus for being my guest. We had so many great guests on the show. If you’ve missed any past episodes, you have to go to DrDianeHamilton.com. You can find out more about Cracking the Curiosity Code and the Curiosity Code Index there too. I hope you enjoyed this episode and I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead radio.
- Marcus Aurelius Anderson
- Conscious Millionaire Epic Achiever
- The Gift of Adversity
- Man’s Search for Meaning
- TEDx Talk – The Gift of Adversity
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- Cracking the Curiosity Code
- Curiosity Code Index
About Marcus Aurelius Anderson
Marcus Aurelius Anderson is the World’s #1 Author on the Gift of Adversity. While preparing to deploy with the U.S. Army Marcus suffered a severe spinal injury that left him paralyzed. After dying on the operating table twice, the surgeons saved his life, but told him he’d never walk again. Having no other option, Marcus started doing some brutally honest soul searching, looking for the lesson to be learned from his injury. Once he started seeing his Adversity as a gift instead of a curse, something miraculous began to happen…”The Gift of Adversity” tells the inspiring story and lessons learned from overcoming pain and paralysis to find purpose. Based on Marcus Aurelius Anderson’s life and TEDx talk, “The Gift of Adversity” gives functional and inspiring wisdom that can be applied in personal development, motivation, and achievement.
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