Interview with Marcus A. Anderson: On growing stronger through adversity

Vera: Adversity is one of those words we assume we have a common understanding of. What’s your definition?

Marcus: My definition of adversity is anyone or anything that tries to inhibit us from accomplishing a goal or desired outcome. Weak mindset, fatigue, and toxic relationships are all examples of adversity.


Vera: Of course no one seeks adversity but incidents of adversity come. What are some of the things to do soon after adversity strikes whether that is one’s business collapsing, being fired from a job etc?

Marcus:  As you mention, adversity is an inevitability. That’s why it’s imperative to have a plan in place for what to do when it happens. When adversity strikes, allow yourself a chance to feel upset, scared and distressed. This amount of time can be anywhere from 15 minutes to a few days. However, after you’ve grieved, it’s imperative to get back to work! Start looking for that new job, do damage control on your business etc. You’ll find that being proactive will rid you of the victim mentality and embolden you to come back stronger than before. By actively working on a solution, you’ll be much less stressed out than if you were to sit idly worrying about what’s going to happen next.


Vera: Adversity is a gift you say and that’s based on your own experiences. What nuggets did you glean from what must have been a really dire time dealing with being paralyzed?

Marcus: From my experience I’ve learned that no matter how dire the circumstance may seem, there is always a lesson to be learned from it. If we see our hardship as a challenge that makes us better, it helps strengthen our resolve in this endeavor. I’ve also found that after we’ve overcome our adversity we can often look back in hindsight and realize that it wasn’t as difficult as we originally made it out to be.


Vera: I see what you mean about momentum being easy to find but hard to maintain. How does one maintain momentum in difficult times? 

Marcus: What builds momentum from the very beginning is belief and discipline. Discipline causes us to come up with a plan and stick with it. By working consistently, even on the days we don’t feel like it, we create results that compound over time. The thing that helps us put in the work, even on the days we don’t feel like it, is believing in the goal you’re trying to accomplish.  This knowledge and experience helps us stay on track from the onset. It’s like lifting something heavy off the ground. Once we have the object in motion, we simply follow through to success.


Vera: Just to focus on mindset for a bit. What is the best way to process negative events so that they don’t take over but bounce you forward?

Marcus: After a short period of grieving, we must realize that we have two choices. We can either focus on the pain of what happened and continue to suffer unnecessarily or we can focus on the lesson to be learned and grow from it. Sitting around asking “Why did this happen to me?” doesn’t help us in the long run. See the lesson and move forward. Sometimes the lesson we learn is to never let ourselves end up in that situation again.


Vera: Do you believe in every cloud having a silver lining? If so what’s been yours?

Marcus: The silver lining from my adversity was the amount of clarity and focus it gave me. During my recovery, I had a lot of time to think about what I truly wanted in my life. I realized that much of what I was doing with my life up to that point was because I cared about the expectations and opinions of other people. I no longer have that issue. I now live my life educating others as an author, speaker and coach and I couldn’t be happier. If I’d never been injured, there’s no way I would’ve had the time or desire to ask myself the hard questions that helped me follow the path I’m on now.


Vera: Taking this beyond the personal to teams, what are some of the ways a team can find strength together after suffering some kind of disaster?

Marcus: There is nothing that breeds connection and cohesiveness in a team like shared hardship. For example, experiencing the adversity of a deadline that’s been moved up on a project elevates the emotions and consequently the effort of all involved. This forces teammates to trust and rely on each other to meet the deadline. This creates a unique comraderie and affinity within the team. By having a common goal in mind and a common obstacle to overcome, the team becomes a close-knit family.

The deadline on my book “The Gift of Adversity: Overcoming Paralysis and Pain to Find Purpose” got moved up in this manner. Lacy French (my editor) and Rachel Williams (my photographer and book cover designer) were who I relied on to help me with this seemingly impossible deadline. With them on my team, we got 3 weeks’ worth of work accomplished in 48 hours. And believe me, there were times when I was unbearable to be around. But because we all knew the plan and our goal, everything came together beautifully. In fact, whenever I was stressed out and lost focus, they were able to gently nudge me back on course and keep me on track when fatigue got the better of me. I couldn’t have finished the book without them.


Vera: I would imagine there’s a lot to learn and relearn as one goes through adversity. What have been the biggest lessons you’ve had to learn?

Marcus: In my TEDx Talk “The Gift of Adversity” I point out that many of us are much better off than we realize. In fact, you’ll notice the people that you hear complaining the loudest often do so because they don’t appreciate the things that they already have. The biggest lesson I’ve learned from my adversity is that we are all stronger than we give ourselves credit for. There are huge wells of strength, resolve and courage that we all possess, yet without adversity spurring us forward, we’ll never become aware of these powers. I’ve learned to look at my adversity as a catalyst that forces me to grow stronger and I now see it as an opportunity. Adversity is a gift, we should embrace it.


Marcus’ profile

Marcus Aurelius Anderson is an author, TEDx and Keynote Speaker and Executive Mindset Coach. While preparing to deploy with the US 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 would never walk again. Having no other option, Marcus started doing some brutally honest soul searching, looking for a lesson to be learnt from the injury. Once he started seeing his adversity as a gift, something miraculous began to change. Marcus now speaks, writes, inspires and teaches others to overcome their own adversity and actualize their personal definition of success. He is author of the book ‘The Gift of Adversity: Overcoming Paralysis and Pain to find Purpose.’


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