Do We Need A Little Adversity?

I’ve been reading a book called 100 Days of Solitude by Daphne Kapsali. Yesterday, at the end of the chapter for Day 42 (this coincidence will not be lost on Hitchhiker’s Guide fans), I read this (emphasis mine):

I like a clandestine seat in the first class lounge and a suitcase that’s impossible to carry. I like a bit of roughness in my seas; if it’s all plain sailing, I might not even notice that I’m going anywhere.

Perhaps we’re all like that, and we need the adversity to remind us that we’re entitled to a comfortable seat and to spending 5 euro on a two minute cab ride because we just don’t want to carry that heavy suitcase anymore. And that we are, each of us, doing the best we can…

The part I bolded struck me – if all is easy and goes well, can we tell how far we’ve come and appreciate the things we have?

Last year, my family and I took a vacation to Hawaii (not a sign of great adversity, I know. Bear with me.) The trip started with a 15-hour flight delay. We were so late we missed the first night in our condo on the Big Island. Instead, we spent most of the night in the L.A. airport.

Condo on the Big Island > L.A. airport. Just saying.

So that sucked, but you know what? In the few flights I’ve taken since then, I really appreciate when a flight leaves on time. Or even only and hour or two delayed. But the best part of that experience was what I learned about my sons, who were 7 and 10 years old at the time.

landing in HI

This was about ten minutes after we landed.

I learned they can keep cool under pressure and frustration. They coped better than I did, admittedly. I had access to the airport’s wine bar and I still complained more. They took the whole thing in stride (though they had never been to Hawaii, so maybe they didn’t know what they were missing), sleeping on gross cots under fluorescent lights while I stayed awake to make sure no one stole our stuff. We were all unwashed and exhausted by the time we landed on the island, but they didn’t care. And frankly, by then, neither did I. Once we were past the rough patch, simply reaching our destination felt like Heaven, and I had a new reason to be abundantly proud of my kids.

The same principle applies in writing. I don’t know any writer who hasn’t struggled in some way during the process. Writers get writer’s block, mess up a character, lose track of the plot, get an extensive editing letter, receive some harsh feedback from a critique partner, have to write a query, decide on agents to send to, maybe figure out how to self publish, try to ignore that crappy review, send review copies to bloggers…

The list is quite extensive. And I think that’s a good thing.

What if by some miracle we were able to put the perfect words down on paper the first time, our editor says, “I can suggest nothing that will improve this,” we land an agent with the first query or produce a flawless independently published work, and become critically acclaimed international bestsellers all within a year?

Daphne quoteWhile those outcomes may ultimately be what we want, having it come that easy would take away something valuable, I think: that sense of “That was effing hard, and I did it. Take that, world.”

There’s satisfaction in overcoming adversity. In conquering. It’s why we write our heroes to rise above the crap, whatever that looks like. We root for the underdogs and cheer the last-second victories. If adversity was faced and beaten, victory is that much sweeter and we can clearly see what we did to achieve it.

But it sucks when you’re in the middle of it, doesn’t it? When you’re in the thick of the crap, hearing someone say it’s better on the other side, even if you know that, is little comfort. Not every adversity is one you’ll be glad you had. That doesn’t mean you can’t rejoice when you make it through. 

Do you have an overcoming adversity anecdote that seasons your story? Feel free to share in the comments! 


23 thoughts on “Do We Need A Little Adversity?

  1. “But it sucks when you’re in the middle of it, doesn’t it?” Depending on the adversity, sucks, is too kind of a word. But like you said, if we didn’t have it from time to time, how great life is the remainder of the time wouldn’t seem so great.

    Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post Allison! I couldn’t agree with you more.

    There’s this great story/saying I heard somewhere that sometimes it’s worth having an elephant step on your foot purely because it feels so good when it steps off again. I probably wouldn’t go that far (!) but there’s definitely an element of the tough times making the good times even good-er.*

    I think a perfect example from my own life would be stand-up comedy.

    Its the nights where the jokes don’t work that make me appreciate the nights when they do. (Although I guarantee you won’t find a single comedian – including me – who would agree with that in the middle of the bad night itself.

    It’s strange because I’m pretty much in a ‘tough’ period right now with fiction writing.

    I’ve been writing and editing my latest novel for over a year now, and it’s got to that painful, ‘is this over yet?’ stage where I have to fight to keep the energy up. I know it’ll be worth it when it’s done though. At least I hope it will – if not maybe I will try and find an elephant to step on me… 😉

    *What? That could be a word. Stop looking at me like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My first novel has just risen from the ashes, so to speak. It was published in 2014. In the early stages you lack awareness. You can believe, that you are submitting synopsis, chapters, manuscripts to interested agents or publishers. The need is to target those specifically, who are looking for a particular genre. To start with my submissions were scatter gun, in effect, although not realizing this. I then contacted a publisher who was looking for a sea adventure novel and my novel was subsequently published There have been good reviews, but it’s only since I approached maritime agencies this year (2016) that meaningful interest has been shown. My present novel is going through twists, turns, and re-thinks about chapter positioning. It’s sometimes hard to accept that this is positive, and necessary. That re-writes of whole chapters and character experiences are necessary to achieve a final manuscript ready for submission, after first being critiqued and edited.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Applying surgery to your MS is never fun (I complain about it more than is helpful, I’m sure), but if you’re like me you’re so happy to see the end result. Knowing this helps me complain less, I think. 😉
      You were smart to get so specific with targeting your audience. I’ve been trying to figure that out for one of my YAs.


  4. I know exactly what you mean, if life didn’t throw stuff at us (notice I didn’t swear there) we would never appreciate any achievements. I know what I do, when the going gets tough… I tend to become an animal and fight my way through. Do my characters do that enough though?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. If everything was great all the time, Hell would be a paper cut or… Being a few hours late to your Hawaiian condo vacation.

    First world problems.

    Forget for a moment that there are people who are worrying about where their next meal is going to come from.

    But I agree. I don’t WANT any roughness in my seas. I want my planes to take off on time. I want to buy a lottery ticket for a dollar and win $50 million. I want a lot of things.

    The reality is, life comes with a few bumps and difficulties.

    I’ve had a very large, loaded gun pointed at me from about two feet away AND FIRED and only later realized I might be dead except for… luck?

    I’ve had a bull shark swim past me when, had he decided to bite through my dive suit, I’d have never made it to shore alive.

    I went to President’s Circle with two different Fortune 500 companies despite hundreds of managers trying to go instead of me.

    But aren’t we told the best things are the ones we work for? I had a very privileged life growing up. I’ve enjoyed success as an adult. What I value most is that which I struggled hardest to achieve.

    Fact is, even Alexander cried when he discovered there were no more worlds to conquer.


    Now I try to show my daughter she can do anything, and show other people THEY, TOO have what it takes. Everyone CAN; not everyone DOES.

    I SCREAM AT THE NIGHT SKY WITH FRUSTRATION over those who find excuses to explain their shortcomings instead of finding time to make their dreams come true. Key word: MAKE. you MAKE your dreams come true through hard work and perseverance.

    Then… I realize…

    Some people want reward without risk. Benefit without cost.

    They live in fear. THEY are the problem they can’t overcome.

    I despise that.
    I despise THEM.


    I worry I’m not doing enough and I worry I’m secretly one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

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