How To Turn Your Adversities Into Your Greatest Strength

Life's adversities are your greatest strength. 

True - this is not a saying you can identify with when you are getting the thick end of the stick every time you pick one up, yet, this simple maxim is what differentiates true success from the pseudo ones that stand tall only to crumble as life works away at the foundations built on vanity and self obsession. The secret trick here lies in being able to learn to not just swallow one's pride but to be able to turn it into good medicine. I was fortunate to have the opportunity of learning this recently.

Upper Fagu leaves steeping in just boiled water, transmitting their wisdom and strength
When Mr. Han in Karate Kid says, Life will knock us down, but we can choose whether or not to stand back up, there is a lesson for each one of us to learn. I have been having a month of anniversaries this month, almost all of them of knock-me-down type of events. The universe has its own peculiar sense of irony, and it teaches you those lessons best (and hardest) that you need to learn the most. The greatest downfall of man (and woman) comes from arrogance, from taking one's gifts for granted, and from believing that one is above the law of cause and effect.

A quick background.

It is a mere five months since I ventured into creating a life different from the one I have lived so far, a life centered around using my gifts of creativity - writing, painting, and teaching - to generate value for myself and others. It has not been easy, since I have been dulled into the securities and complacence that came from my earlier way of living. I set out with determination, focusing my attention on my goal, crafting my work with all my energy, refining my communication, testing my presentation and my content over and over. For someone attempting to make a fresh start at this point in my life, I was satisfied with the halting progress and acceptance that accrued from my efforts. With an unenviable set of challenges facing me, I was perhaps sufficiently distracted to be disappointed.

In the last week, however, I was faced with criticism that I was not prepared for. An editor who had been discussing a guest article by me refused to publish my submissions on the grounds that my sentence construction was not up to the mark, and that my grammar was poor. My first reaction, just like if you've been told that you have a terminal illness, was to laugh. I am quite aware of my poor sentence construction, since I myself am often challenged to figure out what I was trying to say when I come back and read something I wrote some months back. And grammar is what keeps language on a steady course to extinction, in my opinion. All of a sudden, the struggles of the last six years paled into insignificance. To me, with my confidence in my writing skills, this was worse than dowry, divorce or death. Life had not just knocked me down, but knocked me down with the kind of penlight that CSI agents enter dark houses with.

However, as the truth of the situation set in, I asked myself how I could stand back up. On one hand, I felt defeated and useless, and on the other, I felt justifiable anger at not having been understood and appreciated. I spent a day in the doldrums, and the next in deeper doldrums. On the third day, I woke up and made a resolution to use this experience as a springboard for greater success. This post is to share with you how I was able to turn my adversity into my strength.

My first step to stand back up was to take a reality check.

I first went back and looked at my submission. True to my style, it was full of sentences that meandered painfully between adverbial clauses and double negatives. I also used far too many words to express ideas that could have been expressed in half the number of words. Looking at the articles this editor typically hosted, I noticed there was never a variance from the tested blog-post kind of formula, a tight 150 word opening, a bullet-pointed development, and a closure that tied into the key points of the intro. Economy of the highest order. There was no way I could deny that I had been negligent of what was expected of me by the general reading public to whom my personal style was of no inherent value.

My next step was to reset my goals.

I read back on every instance I could find of tortuous sentences and verbiosity. I subjected each instance to the test of whether I could have presented it more effectively, simply, and in fewer words. In some instances, I indeed could have, though it would have made me sound more like a personal development blogger trying to build a silo of lookalike content. I asked myself if I was ready to adapt to the conventions that everyone was expected to adhere to? Was I willing to sacrifice my voice for the sake of readership? Was I ready to say more in less number of words to accommodate the attention span of the nexting generation? What I realized at the end of this searching and fearless writing style audit was that, in order to reach out to a larger readership, I needed to find a balance between my voice, and the reading trends of the present day. I also realized that if I were to abandon my voice, I would not really be able to say what I had to say with the same intensity and conviction.

I decided to mentally segregate the act of writing into two streams,
1. a stream where I would need to train myself to toe the line of attention-deficit reading without losing my voice, and
2. the other where I would need to continuously enrich my style without diluting substance.

My third and last step was to put it into action.

I rewrote by submission in the light of my fresh determination. I allowed contemporary reading trends to hold the rudder of my boat while I let my style make the ride a richer one. I went back and proofread what I wrote, taking care to prune down wherever I could without making myself sound like Sylvester Stallone. I tested every sentence as if I were editing someone else's writing. Once I was satisfied, I brewed myself another cup of Upper Fagu second flush from last year (see picture of it brewing above), and sat and watched the pigeons squabble over who gets to strut their mojo first. Then I went back to my submission and repeated the process all over again. At the end of this second redrafting, I was left with a piece that sounded just like me, and would interest all  readers with adversities seeking to turn them into strengths. I finished my tea and hit the publish button. And you have just finished reading it now!

22 comments:

  1. well written bhai....and i too am a firm believer that irony is a great teacher, but one has to have the introspective vision to see it, work on the flaw and come out refined....btw is one of my favorite movies...:-)

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  2. thats so great, and your post is a real good lesson all pf us who think we are flawless,

    I suppose we should review yourself at regular intervals,,

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  3. i read this 2 hours back but POWER SHUT DOWN pulled me out while commenting, made up my mind to comment again..
    Master piece of yours SUBH... it gives a charm and inspiration(to me)
    Keep doing the good work !

    Life will knock us down, but we can choose whether or not to stand back up, there is a lesson for each one of us to learn

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  4. Your blog made a very interesting reader to an English teacher (me). One of the things I keep telling my students is that what you have to say is more important than the rules of the language, say it. I overlook the grammatical errors. Yet I know it's not entirely right to do it. Grammar does help in the understanding process as every rule helps in some process.


    Creativity has no rule, really, however. Poets, novelists, etc can break all the rules of grammar!

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  5. @Deekay - I like the older Karate Kid a little more than the Jackie Chan one though.

    @Reditt - Your efforts at finding new and unusual information is very inspiring. I am glad that you liked this post and grateful that you took time out to comment.

    @D - Deepakbhai, I am so touched that you came back to leave this inspiring comment.

    @Matheikal - Glad to have you back in the comments thread, sir. Teachers like you are the only hope we have. I liked what you had to say about language and I believe that language which does not evolve beyond traditional rules is a dead language. Yet, one has to conform with the need to be comprehensible, something I repeatedly violate, and enjoy violating.

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  6. Loved this post! Just the inspiration i needed... :)

    Can i call u Subho Da??? As in Bro? I donno why, i have an urge to call you that everytime i comment on your posts!

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  7. A great lesson to be learnt from this post Subho. Inspiring. Thank you. :)

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  8. @Pranita - Of course you can. It is my good fortune! Glad that this post inspired you. Don't just feel good about it. Turn it into action. See? I have already started acting like a bossy bro!

    @Akshay - I learn about loyalty, gratitude and dedication from you and your work Akshay, so the feeling is mutual. Glad you liked this post.

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  9. That's great! :) Surely... Just pondering is almost as good as doing nothing!

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  10. I am happy for you and for all those who can learn something reading what you have to say.. Good luck!

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  11. @Rayyan - Welcome to SJD. Keeping an interested eye out for your blog. All the best, brother!

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  12. Your posts may be lengthy but they do hold interest...i have not read many of your posts but whichever i have read,looked flawless to me...actually u write about various subjects & some of them are not in my field of interest..to save time i skip them.

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  13. I like how you stood back and looked. Dispassionate analysis apparently bears fruits. I remember once when I still cared to see myself in print, the editor of a prominent publication wanted me to renounce half my logic and introduce new elements into a writeup I had submitted. I did what I was told and ended up with stuff I couldn't bear to read. Even though I got an OK from them, I asked them not to run it as I'd already posted it on my blog. They were pissed no ends!

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  14. @jeeteraho - I made a deliberate decision to stick to the short essay form instead of the 400 word blog posts that are aimed at the average blog reader. My goal was to build up a readership that cares for intelligent analysis and commentary, and in my own small way, I am successful. Comments like yours make it worth the while, Indu. And I totally understand that given the topics I write about, not all will appeal to all of my readers. You may also like my post on Writing for a Broader Readership

    @Umashanker - Thanks for taking time out to share your experience. It is really not easy to balance your creative commitment and the need to be widely read.

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  15. Subhorup, truly spoken..We quite often languish in the spoken manner when it comes to writing and our correspondences drag on for eternity, not really defining that fine line between the spoken word and the written word.. And that is what I have seen is senior top level managers excel in...

    A one line or a two line sentence, that is both a reply and a return question.. Enjoyed it.

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  16. A very inspiring read and an even inspiring title. Yeah, it is up to us whether we'll stand back up after failures or we prefer to stay in the oblivion.

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  17. Inspiring...and what is true is that the most important things in life are the simplest ones...we like to complicate things because we have been tuned to believe that what is important must be complex....

    whereas, just as you wrote, its all about simple things, simple as getting up again...that very thought translated into action is the beginning and the beginning is the hardest!!

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  18. Very Nice. Encouraging and positive...

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  19. The emotions of being rejected are hard to cope up with, but the way you defeated those emotions through your sheer positive actions, gives us a lesson or two about how we can do justice with our lives even after presented with negativity.

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  20. Very well put.
    Rising back is more important!

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  21. Wow..it is so difficult to start when someone criticizes your work. Each article is like a child. But what you have shown to us is that learn from it and grow. I also realized that failure teaches us more than success.

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  22. Enjoyed the post! It reminded me of a quote: be like tea leaves, your strength shows when in hot water. Cheers!

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