Enjoy this excerpt from our new book, Healthy Leadership.
Most growth occurs when you are uncomfortable. That’s why adversity can be our friend in growth. Since adversity has an uncanny knack for paralyzing us, it becomes critical to keep moving through it. Otherwise, we will be stalled in its grip.
At 19, Amy Purdy was living the life she had always dreamed of as a massage therapist, snowboarder, and avid traveler. Then, the unthinkable occurred. She caught a strain of bacterial meningitis. In no time she was comatose in a hospital on life support, with a 2 percent chance of survival.
Miraculously, she beat the illness, but not without life-altering losses: her spleen, her two kidneys, and both her legs. When she was discharged from the hospital, the unwieldy prosthetic legs she was given didn’t fill her with hope—only despair.
As she later recalled, “I was absolutely physically and emotionally broken. But I knew that in order to move forward, I had to let go of the old Amy and embrace the new Amy.”
Despite the lightning bolt of adversity that had struck her, Amy started piecing her life back together, and she did so fearlessly and creatively. She soon went back to work and school, created special legs for herself (with neon-pink duct tape) so that she could return to snowboarding, and she founded a nonprofit to help other young people with disabilities pursue action sports.
Not only that, she went on to compete as a snowboarder at the Paralympics, where she brought home multiple medals. She later published a book while also competing in an even more public way, on the TV show Dancing with the Stars.
Looking back now, Amy says that she would never change what happened to her because she sees it as a “magnificent gift.” The loss of her legs “enabled” her, in her words, to discover new depths of imagination and resourcefulness in herself.
Amy Purdy’s response to her devastating circumstance is inspiring, and it is not as uncommon as you might think. Psychologists have found that even when experiencing trauma, most people return to normal levels of functioning, and many actually grow and improve from the trauma.
Only a small percentage experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Humans evolved to be naturally resilient in the face of adversity. This explains why Amy and so many others like her can display what is known as post-traumatic growth.
You decide what adversity means to you and how you will use it. Healthy leaders choose to let adversity refine them instead of letting it define them. Healthy leaders learn from the valleys of life so they can reach higher peaks.