Adversity: A Blessing Or A Curse?

I believe when we encounter adversity in any way, shape and form, it will dramatically change our perspectives on life from thereupon. Some adversities come knocking at our doors in times that we least expect them to. Then, there are others where we deliberately put ourselves in a position to take them head on. Either way, we’re out of our comfort zones. This compels us to think and act differently from who we usually are. This is the period when we are made aware of many other versions of ourselves. It allows us to have a deeper understanding of our personal limiting factors, and untapped potential that we may never know of till we are needed to rise to a certain occasion.

The following is a recollection of a significant adversity that I faced almost a decade ago, which recalibrated the definition of determination to me. The impact was huge, as it established the foundation of almost everything that I do from that incident onwards. Many would probably disagree that this particular event should even be considered as an adversity. But, I believe it is different for everyone.

We all have our own obstacles to cross, and these adversities cannot be lumped together or measured against one another.

However, we can surely agree we’re all in the same game, just that we’re on different levels. We can definitely agree we’re all dealing with the same hell, just that they’re different devils, isn’t it?

At the age of 15, I was instructed to go through a fitness proficiency test which was made up of various exercises, such as running and sit-ups. Up to then, I had represented my schools for sports ranging from basketball to badminton. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I had supreme athletic capabilities, but I would consider myself to be at least reasonably fit enough to pass the fitness proficiency test. I was pleased with my decent performance across the series of exercises, till I came face to face with pull ups. 15 years into my life, and I have never attempted to do a single pull up. Upon first encounter of my classmates doing it, pull ups seemed fairly simple to me. How difficult can it be to pull yourself up to a point where your chin is above the bar? Soon, it was my turn. I made a gentle leap in the air and landed a firm grip on the pull up bar. My heart was racing, and I took a deep breath in the attempt to calm myself down.

I pulled. But I was not moving. I pulled again, and still, I wasn’t moving.

I couldn’t believe what was happening. My eyes widened. My hopes in completing a pull up widened further. I tried multiple times, and before I realised, my arms gave way. At that point, my heart turned heavy. I felt this surge of despair and disappointment. I couldn’t believe what was happening right in front of me. This makes no sense. How difficult can it be to pull myself up? Apparently, very; at least for me. As you may have already guessed it, I failed the test. But I felt I failed myself more. I thought that time heals all wounds, and this feeling of helplessness will go away. But, it didn’t. This incident morphed into a mental mark and became personal to me.

It was like an alarm in my head that doesn’t go off, and it was constantly ringing — “You’re weak. You’re weak. You’re weak.”

I don’t know what happened, or how it happened, but one day I snapped. Out of nowhere, I felt this intense urge to destroy the alarm thoroughly. I wanted so badly to dismember it part by part, and laugh at its idiocy. How naive was it to assume that I would back away, that I would actually cave in? Oh dear.. you better start running. You better do, because you’ve awakened something that you probably shouldn’t have. When I get you, and we both know I will, you will see for yourself what madness looks like and how terrifying it can get.

It was a dialogue between me and myself. The conversation went back and forth. The longer it gets, the stronger my desire grew. I started putting my thoughts into action. Many hours were spent sifting through videos and articles on ways to complete a perfect pull up. During that process, I learned so much. There were topics ranging from various exercises that can help in a pull up, kinds of muscles being activated for a pull up, diets that aid in muscle development, amount of rest needed for muscle recovery, and the list goes on. At the same time while I was accumulating as much information as I could, I was also attempting for my very first proper pull up. Almost every night, I would head down to a nearby park and practise on the techniques I’ve learned. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t smooth sailing. Each time I returned home, I was caught up in defeat with calluses on my palms. Louder than ever before, the alarm continued ringing — “You’re weak. You’re weak. You’re weak.” There was something about this chant that kept the fire in me burning, and it was burning wild. I decided to delve deeper into this obsession and take it a notch higher.

In addition to my night trainings in the park, I would pay extra attention during my recess break in school to observe how other people do pull ups. I would nail down the tiniest details that I could have possibly missed all this while. It may be the position of their feet, the height of their jump, the width of their grip, the activation of certain muscle groups, or even the vigour they carry. After which, I would give it a try. It didn’t matter if i failed. I didn’t care.

I would continue trying till I am louder than the alarm within me.

Almost every recess break, I would spend half the time eating, and the other half at the pull up bars. Along the way, I made some new friends who were on a similar journey as me. I struggled for 1 perfect pull up, and they struggled for 12.

Looking back, many would have mistaken that all I wanted to accomplish is to complete a pull up. But that wasn’t the case. Pull up was simply a tool or a medium, depending on how you see it. It can be anything else that triggered me.

I was not obsessed with wanting to perfect a pull up. I was obsessed with this idea of emerging victorious over the internal struggle within me.

I was obsessed in proving my demons wrong over and over again. I was obsessed in seeking pleasure knowing that I am stronger than ever before. Eventually, I did my first pull up, which led to my second, third, fourth, tenth, fifteenth, twentieth, twenty-fifth. I had successfully deconstructed the alarm into pieces and dominated the conversation. Needless to say, I passed my next fitness proficiency test, but it was of little priority to me.

What I cared more was how I passed my own test.

This was one of my first few deep encounters with adversity, and it taught me a lot about myself. It brought me to a mental state that I didn’t know I could possibly be in. It enlightened me on how if I can actually learn to be good at something, I can be good at something else too. It made me wonder the possibilities ahead of me if I were to apply the same resilience I learned back then when I was 15. Yet with all these being said, I don’t believe we emerge victorious each time we face our adversities. Whatever you’ve read is one mere optimistic account. I believe in the reality that we win some, we lose some. We may lose to an adversity, but we mustn’t lose ourselves.

There is a fine line between fishing and doing nothing. We would like to think that we’re fishing, but the truth is we don’t have the line.