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Virginia Beach, VA 23456
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Motivation Article

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Adversity: Your Seed of Greatness

(Three Secrets to Using Adversity to Become Great)

By Ed Sykes

From our first day on earth until our last, we face different levels of adversity.  Adversity may be sickness, a property loss, or the loss of a family member.  It may be a lost career promotion or a business setback.  How we handle these adversities defines how we achieve greatness in our lives.

Let me share the story of James Blake, who overcame multiple adversities -- more than most of us would ever experience in a lifetime -- and yet achieved greatness.  James Blake is a world class professional tennis player enjoying fame and making a six-figure income.  However, in his childhood, he developed a rare disease that required him to wear a body brace for years.  Other kids teased him, calling him “Iron Man” from the Marvel Comic Books, and he felt left out.  During this time, he concentrated on his academics, read a wide variety of books, and developed himself as a well-rounded person.  He also developed a heightened awareness for others who are going through difficult times.

Once he had the brace removed, he learned to play tennis with an intense passion not exhibited by many other tennis players, because he appreciated the opportunity to finally play tennis.  He didn’t take this opportunity for granted. He attended Harvard and became the #1 player on their tennis team.

As a promising professional player, adversity struck again.  In 2004, while practicing for a major tournament, he slipped and fell forward striking his neck against the metal pole that holds the tennis net.  James’s doctor said that had James not slightly turned his head, James would have broken his vertebra and become paralyzed from the neck down.  Instead, he was hospitalized with a fractured vertebra, blurred vision, and dizziness.

While in the hospital, James did much soul searching.  Many family members and friends came by to offer encouragement, advice, and support.  His coach was a constant bedside companion and finally asked James, “Do you want to play tennis again?”  James said “yes,” and they developed a plan to start his comeback.

With the support of family, friends, and his coach, James started his comeback step by painful step.  At first when he tried to play tennis, he still had to overcome his blurred vision and dizziness.  He had doubts whether he would ever handle the 125 mph plus serves of his opponents. 

Then he suffered another setback.  During his rehabilitation, his father, with whom he had a very close relationship, developed cancer and passed away.  During his father’s sickness, James was by his side.  After his father passed away, James was devastated.  However, he regrouped and carried on with the support of his mother, family, friends, and coach.

He returned to playing professional tennis, and there were many more losses than wins.  But he stayed focused and determined and progressively improved.  He began playing the top professional players competitively, and he began winning against the top players.  Then he once again started winning tournaments.  After this long journey, James became one of the top players in the world.

What can we learn from James Blake’s journey through adversity to greatness?  The following are three keys to making adversity work for you:

1.   If it Doesn’t Kill You, It Makes you Stronger

Many times we face adversities and say, “If only I can make it through this.”  It may be a sickness, loss of a loved one, job loss, etc.  By remaining focused, determined, and concentrating on the positive, many times you can become stronger. 

Parents are now sheltering their children against any little adversity for fear it might be painful.  I say allow your children to “grow up” and stop sheltering them from adversity.  Teach them how to make adversity work for them.  These adversities and the way they handle the adversities will define who they are and prepare them for challenges in the future. Some of our greatest business leaders, scientists, engineers, inventors, humanitarians, and sport heroes became the people they are because they overcame adversity.

2.   Adversity Develops Unknown Talents

Once the door of adversity closes one opportunity to you, the door of greatness often opens another.  James Blake, first during his sicknesses and then after, developed his awareness of helping other unfortunate people.  Now he runs free tennis programs for disadvantaged children.  Before his sickness, James was not known for his concentration and focus on the tennis court.  After his sickness, he developed and became known for his mental toughness.  When experiencing adversity, ask yourself, “What positive thing can come out of this?”


3.    Adversity Rallies Your Resources

While James was sick, many resources arrived to help him.  First, he had the time to step back to reflect on his life, goals, mission, and values.  Second, he was able to obtain sound advice from family, friends, and others that he might not have been able to receive while traveling on the road.  His setbacks allowed him to take time to summon resources (advice, help, etc.) he would not have realized if he had been traveling non-stop.  He made his “downtime” work for him.

When adversity comes, don’t avoid it; attack adversity with all your resources.  The way you manage adversity will define who you are and ready you for future opportunities, because adversity can be your seed of greatness.

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Want to learn how to be a motivated achiever? Our motivation programs can help you be the motivator who lead others to the next level of success.  Also read our articles on motivation, goal setting, etc. Call us at 757-427-7032 or e-mail us at

Ed Sykes is a professional speaker published in the areas of leadership, change management, customer service and teamwork. He works with business and government organizations who want to reach the next level of success and individuals who want to perform at their best. You can email him at, call him at (757) 427-7032 or visit his Web site at

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Last modified:
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