Superman Isn’t Coming (or How to Overcome Adversity)

Believing that you have the power to help yourself is the key to overcome adversity


We all know someone who constantly complains about their circumstances. These individuals grumble about work, their family, the weather, and everything else in-between. They go on about the injustices in their life yet never seem to move past complaining and attempt to overcome adversity.

I get it. It feels good to get stuff off our chest. Having someone listen to our moaning and groaning provides a release from what ails us, if only momentarily. It’s how we signal our pain to others. It’s a way to build connections. But it can most certainly be detrimental to us as well.

Of course there are people with legitimate reasons to gripe. The journey you’re on, or that of someone you know, may have started from a bad place, including tragedy, abuse, or neglect. Anyone with a drop of empathy in their body wouldn’t begrudge someone like this for voicing their complaints.

The problem is that complaining is not a substitute for taking action. Expressing what’s bothering us, only to then do nothing about it, is unproductive if not pointless. It’s the recipe for reliving the same old story again and again.

Too often we sit around waiting for something to change, as if the mere act of complaining is enough, and then some greater power will come to save us. Here’s the reality: Superman isn’t coming.

The people who overcome adversity and achieve something meaningful in this life are usually the people who know how to help themselves. These people believe they have the power to take positive action in any situation. Because they do have the power. It’s an ability we all have available to us.

It’s Not About How Smart or Talented You Are

One of the biggest reasons why people get stuck in situations where they can’t help themselves is because they don’t believe they have the capacity to do so. They either think they aren’t smart enough, or talented enough, or creative enough, or any other of many perceived limitations.

These beliefs don’t hold much weight when examined closer. In fact, there’s research suggesting that IQ is only a 1 to 2 percent factor in predicting future success in children. What factors are more important? Diligence, perseverance, and self-discipline.

We don’t acquire diligence through a high IQ. Perseverance is not a skill you are born with. Self-discipline isn’t hard-coded into our DNA. These aren’t innate abilities; they are characteristics that we all have the capacity to develop over time and then use to overcome adversity.

Calvin Coolidge summarized it best when he said:

“Nothing in the World can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination are omnipotent. The slogan “press on” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

Calvin Coolidge

It’s About Belief in Your Own Abilities

Diligence, perseverance, and self-discipline are qualities we all can exhibit but what underlies these traits? What enables some people to overcome adversity and others to fold when they meet resistance?

The answer is belief in our own abilities. If we believe that we have the ability to meet a challenge then we are likelier to persist towards the desired outcome. After all, no one wants to set themselves up for failure when they don’t believe they have a chance.

This is the idea of self-efficacy that social cognitive psychologist Albert Bandura developed. Per Bandura, self-efficacy is “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations.

The challenge for those of us who have been through difficult times is to gain that belief in ourselves and our ability overcome adversity. It requires us to recalibrate our identity. It will take time of course, but small steps lead to big change.

Your Ability to Adapt is the Reason You Can Overcome Adversity

A common trait of ours is to think that our problems are unique. That there are certain aspects of our situation that make it especially difficult to overcome. Simply believing in yourself may seem like too simple of a solution in this case. But it’s not.

Believing in yourself is truly the catalyst for overcoming adversity. Why? Because we humans are the most adaptive species that’s ever walked the earth.

We are not the fastest, or the strongest, and our bodies are quite fragile in comparison to most animals, yet we find ways to adapt to almost any condition or circumstance. As evidenced by the fact that we build igloos in the tundra and mud huts in the desert. And live long lives in the process.

This ability to adapt to our circumstances, and the challenges we face, is the reason we can put a man on the moon. It’s the reasons why we can think about colonizing other planets one day and have it not seem like such a far-fetched idea. It’s the reason a person with a debilitating condition can lead a joyful, eventful life while inspiring others to do the same.

Your problems are not insurmountable. Few of life’s problems are. You just need to keep an unwavering belief that you have the power to overcome adversity. Your innate ability to adapt will take over from there.

Superman isn’t coming, but that’s OK, because you already have everything you need.

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