How Not To Miss The Opportunity In Adversity


Sam Mizrahi is the founder and president of Mizrahi Developments, an award-winning luxury real estate developer.

Many business people have heard the adage about the need to expect failures on the way to success. It has become a cliché. If a person hasn’t had a few failures, one might even question if they’re truly an entrepreneur. It’s a rite of passage in many ways.

But what about adversity? Adversity is not a failure. Adversity is when things don’t go as planned. It’s about struggles, complications and unexpected problems.

Some might say that good planning can help you avoid adversity. Isn’t a good business person supposed to anticipate things before they become problems? Aren’t we meant to be prescient?

To some extent, we are. For example, knowing what people want before they even know is the magic of successful entrepreneurship. We pride ourselves on the ability to see into the future.

But no one can anticipate everything, not completely.

I don’t regret any of the adversity that has beset me in my entrepreneurial career. As with many business people, I have experienced my fair share. But I can unequivocally state that every single challenge, every setback or unexpected outcome, has made me stronger and more successful. The perspective I have on my 35-year career in entrepreneurship is that adversity is destined to provide the skill set to become a better, stronger person.

How can we all develop this mindset? I have reflected on my own strategies in the business arena for finding the good in adversity.

Look inward.

Don’t lay blame. If you just blame others for the challenges you face, you are likely not examining yourself and your behaviors or approach that may have contributed to the problem in the first place. Don’t think of yourself as a victim of circumstances. Let the adversity become a driver for success. Look for ways around the problem. Approach a problem as an opportunity to expand your thinking.

Most important, ask yourself the question: Did you expect your business idea to come to fruition effortlessly? If that was the case, if it was easy to accomplish what you’ve set out to do, then everybody would do it.

Entrepreneurship is hard. Stay the course. Examine your own faults, weaknesses and mistakes. Take ownership of them.

Recognize the normality of adversity.

This may seem like a contradiction to the point expressed above, but remember that change is constant, in life and in business. Uncertainty is everywhere. Rather than overly criticizing yourself for not seeing a problem ahead of time, recognize the normality of adversity.

It’s like an unpredictable storm. They happen. You have to learn how to handle them. Markets shift. Customers change their minds. Investors reconsider their support. People who were once your greatest champions might turn on you and become enemies.

You could get angry. You might feel sorry for yourself. But I would encourage you to take a different approach:

“You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage,” Michelle Obama once said. “Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.”

Accept the challenge.

I think of problems as pause buttons. They occur for you to figure out a better solution. They can make you better. They’re not given to destroy you.

It’s similar to strength training. In order to get stronger, tiny tears occur in the muscle during exercise: “These tears in the muscle then repair and grow as a result. The more this happens, the stronger the muscle becomes.”

In the business realm, the level of intestinal fortitude required to face and withstand some of the most difficult challenges takes years to build up. There is no magic bullet. There is no way to protect yourself from adversity. It’s out there, waiting for you. You have to build up your strength in small doses, challenge after challenge. As you gain more experience, as you deal with adversity, you learn to anticipate it, recognize its potential, and you can become better at mitigating it.

Consider the choice you’re offered.

You could quit. You could decide to end your business venture. Call it a day. Throw in the towel. But think of this: Adversity can be a test to see how much you want to make a success of your business. It’s an opportunity for re affirmation of your choice. Or not.

So ask yourself: Do you still want to pursue it? Do you still have it in you to fight for it?

Believe in yourself.

At the end of the day, in any challenge, only you can develop the skills or insights needed to surmount the adversity you face. Growing up as a young boy in Canada, I was teased because I was an immigrant. I had to learn English as a second language. I was bullied because of it.

Only you will know the lessons you had to learn. Your challenges will not be the same as mine. I have learned to value the perception I have gained by facing hardship in business and in my life. I am better at reading people. I am smarter, wiser. I have learned to set boundaries sooner; to say no, if necessary, even when that refusal will be deemed unhelpful or unpopular; to stand up to people sooner.

My biggest takeaway? I have seen that, in a way, I allowed the people who later became my opponents to grow. I empowered them. Perhaps I even created them or at least created the circumstances that made them feel empowered. In some situations, I think we can create our enemies by giving them power through trust, through kindness. We can inadvertently allow them to take advantage of us.

This is a hard lesson, I’ll admit. I believe in trust, in kindness, but I have also learned, through hardship, that in business dealings, when a lot is at stake, it should not be easily given as it is often confused for weakness.