“Love thine enemies because they are the instruments of your destiny.”
What strikes me most about this quote from Joseph Campbell’s bestselling book The Power of Myth is how frustratingly accurate it is. We revile our adversaries without acknowledging their role in helping us achieve our full potential.
Although we associate the word enemy with those who oppose us, people are rarely our greatest adversaries. Instead, our enemies are often more personal and intimate, such as a health concern, negative mindset, or obstacle we’re working to overcome. Whether it’s a person or situation you see as an obstacle, shift your perspective to see them as instruments of destiny that shape your journey and promote self-discovery instead. By embracing adversity, we gain the wisdom and strength to persevere and achieve things we never thought possible.
How we learn
The truth is, we learn little sitting under clear blue skies with our bellies full and bills paid. That’s because comfort causes complacency, which is the antithesis of growth. In moments of discomfort, pain, and fear, we make significant progress and take tremendous strides toward revealing our warrior spirit. While avoiding challenges robs us of these valuable opportunities, embracing the suck and leaning into adversity fuels exponential growth and transforms us into the best versions of ourselves.
Lessons from nature
In the early 1990s, scientists built a massive, closed ecosystem in Oracle, AZ, to study the viability of supporting human life. It was known as Biosphere 2, and those involved soon found that trees grew faster inside the airtight building but never fully matured; this resulted in shorter trees devoid of fruit that toppled under their weight. Unlike their counterparts in the wild, these trees were protected from the elements, never having to endure the rigors of nature. In other words, they never struggled. In nature, the wind forces trees to drop their roots deep into the earth and grow a rigid skeletal structure known as stress wood. Without it, the trees couldn’t survive. It turns out that difficult times make strong trees, and easy times make weak ones.
Labeling experiences as good or bad is often a hasty judgment, bereft of comprehending their transformative potential. Our mindset plays a critical role in determining the impact of such experiences, shaping our perception so much that we often mistake a blessing for a curse or see a curse as a blessing. What can we do to transcend this type of momentary emotional reaction? While answering that will require a far more in-depth conversation, asking yourself these three questions is a great start:
1. What’s good about this?
2. What might this bring out in me?
3. How might this help me get stronger?
Although hardships often feel like curses, they’re usualLy blessings in disguise. Like the wind and trees, each struggle strengthens our resolve and prepares us for the battles ahead; difficult times reaffirm our best qualities and uncover our true character.
Write your story
We’ve all heard of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but few know about post-traumatic growth (PTG); it occurs when people become stronger and more resilient following hard times. Psychologist Martin Seligman says the primary factor determining whether an event triggers PTSD or PTG is the story we tell ourselves. The narrative we spin around our experience is pivotal to the outcome. While some may wilt under adversity, others view it as an opportunity to grow and improve. Strive to create a narrative that nourishes your soul and elevates your spirit.
Love your enemies
Embracing our challenges and adversaries with love, rather than mere tolerance or endurance, paves the way for us to derive maximum benefit from the experience. It allows us to view our enemies as catalysts of growth that equip us for even greater challenges resting just beyond the horizon. While struggling can be painful, remember that ash from a burned forest becomes the fertilizer from which new growth flourishes.
Mildred Witte Stoven wrote, “A clay pot sitting in the sun will always be a clay pot; it has to go through the white heat of the furnace to become porcelain.”
Like clay pots sitting in the sun, we remain unchanged until the crucible of hardship refines us and transforms us into something beautiful. Let’s embrace that heat and acknowledge those who spark it as the transformative force they are—only then can we be truly thankful for their presence.
D.J. Vanas is an enrolled member of the Ottawa Tribe and a former U.S. Air Force officer. He’s a thought leader, producer, and author; his most recent book, The Warrior Within, is published by Penguin Random House. As an in-demand speaker, he’s taught more than 500 tribal nations, corporations, and organizations, including Intel, NASA, Subaru, Disney, the Mayo Clinic, and the U.S. military, how to employ traditional warrior principles to lead with courage, be resilient, and perform at their best. In 2022, Vanas hosted the critically acclaimed PBS special, Discovering Your Warrior Spirit. Learn more.