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Adversity to Success

-2 Post author: Elo 15 June 2016 10:24PM

It's a classic story, your average millionaire tells their story of how they had a life of struggling and subsequently overcame such struggles and went on to become a (multi-)millionaire.  "What a great story" everyone says.  But why does it happen, and why does it happen so often?

The easy answer: Survivorship bias.  What happened to the rest of the regiment in the army*?  What happened to the other homeless people on the streets?  They all suffered, struggled and died out, or went on to live mediocre enough lives that they didn't write about their experiences.  Surely there are more millionaires that write about their "story" than people who went through adversity writing about their story...

But is that enough?  Does that explain it?  It certainly would explain a few millionaires.  Also what about your average not-suffering human.  Middle class, ordinary income, is there something about suffering and risk-taking that they should want to do?  Telling someone to give up their job and live on the streets for a month just to know what suffering "feels like", in the hope of going on to become a millionaire...  Sounds like a terrible idea!  And good luck selling a book with that kind of advice.

So what is it about suffering that we should care about?  What can we learn from all these stories if not "survivorship bias is a strong, show-stopping applause light"?

Coping Mechanisms

 

One thing that hardship gives you, other than a great story is the mental ability to say, "something really bad happened and I survived", and consequently, "I can survive the next really bad event".  The future is likely to have all sorts of ups and downs.  There will always be bad days with car accidents, days where you nearly get fired, or lose the big deal.  There will also be great days!  Days where you make the deal, every plan executes successfully, you get the rewards you were striving for, it seems like you were just lucky...

When you have a coping mechanism you can walk through bad days like water off a duck's back, then you can take the good days and use them to climb and grow as if the bad days weren't even there.

The next question is; How can one develop coping mechanisms without voluntarily undergoing hardship? (with exercises like CoZE, or voluntarily experiencing discomfort just to see what it feels like, but I don't think that's key)

What do you think?

*I disagree with some of the message in that link and hope to publish a rewrite soon.


Meta: this took 30 minutes to write, and I composed it as a private email to someone; I am going to try new writing methods in the hope of giving myself and easier path to writing.  I have been thinking about this the idea for months, and the problem with adversity-to-success stories.  Thanks to Sam and Seph for being two local lw'ers who influenced my thoughts on the idea.

My Table of contents contains my other writing.

Note: Eugine is at the downvotes again.

Comments (10)

Comment author: ArgleBlargle 16 June 2016 04:45:04AM *  2 points [-]

Lauding coping mechanisms as a brilliant way to achieve success is missing several points. Coping mechanisms are cobbled together, makeshift things, which more often than not provide hindrance later. Much of psychotherapy is based around unlearning poor coping mechanisms, and learning or relearning solid strategies for dealing with crisis. The concept of crisis strategies being useful is valid, but shooting for coping mechanisms without the trauma that creates the need for them is imitating MacGuyver instead of engineers; sure, the paperclip shoestring worked in the moment, but it's hardly the ideal solution.

Comment author: DanArmak 17 June 2016 12:56:39PM 1 point [-]

When you have a coping mechanism you can walk through bad days like water off a duck's back, then you can take the good days and use them to climb and grow as if the bad days weren't even there.

You're implying the bad days mostly hurt people psychologically or behaviorally, because they don't cope well. And not via impersonal mechanisms like disease, injury, loss of money or property or family or community. I don't think that's well supported.

Comment author: Viliam 16 June 2016 01:20:40PM 1 point [-]

One thing that hardship gives you, other than a great story is the mental ability to say, "something really bad happened and I survived", and consequently, "I can survive the next really bad event".

Seems to me that when crappy things happen to people, it often makes them more fragile in the future. They start believing there is a pattern of misfortune happening to them, and when another bad thing happens, they see it as the same old pattern in action again.

Comment author: Lumifer 16 June 2016 02:29:44PM 1 point [-]

Seems to me that when crappy things happen to people, it often makes them more fragile in the future.

I think it depends on the outcome. If you ultimately succeeded, the adversity made you stronger. But if it broke you, it made you more fragile.

Comment author: Viliam 17 June 2016 07:22:01AM 0 points [-]

It could also be something in between, such as: You survived, but you suffered some irrepairable damage.

Comment author: Lumifer 17 June 2016 02:19:27PM 1 point [-]

By "broken" I don't mean "broken into tiny little pieces suitable only for sweeping into the rubbish bin". I mean something close to your "irreparable damage".

Comment author: SquirrelInHell 16 June 2016 01:43:02AM 1 point [-]

How can one develop coping mechanisms without voluntarily undergoing hardship?

There's a more fundamental problem here.

Suffering and hardships make you stronger, and teach you to cope.

But with no suffering or hardships, even if you knew how, what would make you want to get strength and ability to cope?

And I'd say this is not something that can be done on the "it would be cool if I could do that" level of motivation.

My guess is you don't make serious progress with this until you are desperate. If you aren't, even knowing the "perfect method" wouldn't help you.

Comment author: taryneast 15 June 2016 11:50:36PM 1 point [-]

Are you asking why adversity-to-success stories are so prevalent? in which case it's also partly because we (the ordinary people) want to hear them... because they are stories of hope, especially stories of what we hope for ourselves. Reading about a great success triggers our own feeling of succeeding, in small part.

Comment author: ChristianKl 16 June 2016 09:04:19AM 0 points [-]

Telling someone to give up their job and live on the streets for a month just to know what suffering "feels like", in the hope of going on to become a millionaire... Sounds like a terrible idea! And good luck selling a book with that kind of advice.

I don't see why such a book would be unsuccessful given the prevelance of stoicism.

The next question is; How can one develop coping mechanisms without voluntarily undergoing hardship? (with exercises like CoZE, or voluntarily experiencing discomfort just to see what it feels like, but I don't think that's key)

There are a lot of different strategies. A classic one is spirtuality.

There Victor Frankl with the idea that it's about finding meaning in live. In LW lingo, having something to protect.

There are a variety of emotional techniques like meditiation or focusing that allow people to better deal with their emotions.

Comment author: troff 16 June 2016 05:06:33AM *  0 points [-]

What was your experience with hardship and what coping mechanism did it leave you to develop?

And for that matter, was said coping mechanism so effective for you it felt like "the bad days weren't even there"?

Edit: I suspect the effective coping mechanisms are most thoroughly born when the survival impulse is driven.

To offer an explanatory perspective by quoting a popular medium:

"There is an official Time-Lord strategy you are taught even as a small child: in circumstances of near-defeat, you take stock of the forces that are working on your behalf, your assets and then separately assess the forces working against you, your liabilities. This leads to the next stage: devising a plan that will increase the former and diminish the latter. The dictum had always struck the Doctor as typically Gallifreyan - that is to say arid, abstract and artificial. The only really stimulating thing about defeat, death and disaster is that all the rule-books go out of the window, and you are permitted to improvise under the purest inspiration of all - blind panic. But for the present his numbed brain allowed neither panic nor inspiration, and he was grateful to have the tired old Gallifreyan formula to fall back on."

  • "Doctor Who: Castrovalva", novelisation by Christopher Bidmead