An old friend Featured

9:37am EDT July 22, 2002

Do you find yourself constantly on the defensive? If it's not one problem, it's another?

Sales are down. Cash flow is negative. Employees are leaving. You even have problems at home.

Do you want to just give up? Well, maybe you are facing a heavy dose of adversity.

If we look at our lives with the benefit of hindsight, maybe we can understand it better. Adversity starts from the moment of our birth. Prior to entering the world, we live in a uterine bubble -- floating around in the comfort of our mothers, waiting to be born.

We arrive in a world filled with struggles and problems. We cry and scream to get food and attention. One day we enter school, a room filled with 30 different little personalities, each fighting for love and attention.

Our adversity continues through high school and college. Then, in a flash, we are thrust into the real world. And then a new struggle starts that follows us through the next 30 or 40 years.

That, of course, is the working life. We take all that we have learned from our protected world into the unprotected world, and who is there to greet us? Our old friend, adversity. Only now the stakes are higher. Our very existence sometimes depends on how we cope with the adversity we face in adulthood.

How should we view our frequent companion? Should we view it as an enemy and try to avoid it, or as a friend we can learn from?

You may ask how you can view adversity as a friend. I see three ways it can serve in that role:

  • In sifting. If we take two people and place them in a competitive situation, the inherent adversity usually shows who of the two will succeed and who will fail. Our economic system is based on this freedom to succeed or fail.

    Many people who immigrate to the U.S. start businesses that, within a few years, become very successful because hard work and a commitment to succeed overcome the adversity of adapting to a foreign culture.

  • In shining. Adversity also shines on those who make it beyond the sifting level. A boxer who fights against the bag but never faces a real opponent has not really been tested. Only when he is in the ring with another fighter do the rigors of training come to fruition and the fighter begins to realize his true potential.

  • In strengthening. The presence of adversity forces us to test our abilities, sharpening them as we go. In fact, one of the biggest dangers we face in business is a lack of adversity. Without it, we become comfortable, and with comfort comes complacency.

When we started SBN years ago, we faced plenty of adversity. We had no track record in the publishing business, little capital and a lot of competition. In those early years, we stared down adversity nearly every day, generating cash flow, paying bills, meeting payroll, soothing dissatisfied customers and trying to collect from customers who didn't pay their bills.

Today we publish magazines in several cities. However, we still face adversity in finding and keeping good employees, controlling costs and increasing revenue.

If we had let adversity have the upper hand, we probably wouldn't have started this company. And we certainly wouldn't have expanded into other cities. But through the process of sifting, shining and strengthening, we have always emerged from our adversity ready to take on the next challenge. And we will continue to do so in the years to come.

The true test of a person's character is not when things are going well, but how that person handles adversity. Those are the people I want on my team. Fred Koury (fkoury@sbnnet.com) is president and CEO of SBN.