GCM 153 | Thriving In Adversity


The ability to thrive in adversity is a game-changer quality for all kinds of leaders – whether you’re a CEO of a giant corporation or a parent who endeavors to prepare your children for the big, bad world. Adversity is a common thread that all people share. What differentiates the survivors from the victims is how they navigate that adversity and come out of it stronger. To discuss a topic that is very close to his heart, Rodney Flowers brings in James Kelley the founder of qChange. James is a sought-out speaker on the topics of leadership and corporate wellbeing and the international author of The Crucible’s Gift: 5 Lessons from Authentic Leaders Who Thrive in Adversity. In this episode, they discuss in detail the different facets of resilience, specifically how we can build it for ourselves and for our children.

Listen to the podcast here:

The Crucible’s Gift: How To Thrive In Adversity With James Kelley

I have a special guest, Mr. James Kelley. He is the Founder of qChange. We’re going to talk about that. What is qChange? You’ll find out shortly. He is the international author of The Crucibles Gift: 5 Lessons from Authentic Leaders Who Thrive in Adversity. James has spent the last years working in consulting, marketing, and higher education with a cross-section of leaders and organizations. James is a highly sought-out speaker on the topics of leadership and corporate wellbeing, appearing on over 50 of the top podcasts on leadership, personal development, and startups. James resides outside of Dubai, where he teaches and lives with his wife and four kids. Welcome to the show, Mr. James Kelley.

I sound a pompous man to that intro. I got to downplay that a little bit. I am a humble human being and that does not sound humble at all. The only correction to that is that we moved from Dubai and we now live in Bend, Oregon. That’s the only update on that one. Thank you so much for having me, Rodney. I’m excited. I appreciate you having me on your show.

I thank you for being here. Thank you for the work that you are doing. I’m interested in lessons from authentic leaders who thrive in adversity. The reason why I’m interested in that is that the world is going through an adverse time. We need to know, how can we thrive in adversity? I want to dive right into that being as you are an expert in that subject and get into what are some of the things we should be doing, maybe learning in order to thrive in the adversity that is going on in the world.

I always find that the notion of adversity is such a unique, personalized moment, and you know this all too well from your experience. Only you as the individual can determine what that adversity means for you. No one can tell you how to define it. No one can tell you how to deal with it. When we think about the world we live in, we are in an uncertain point in time on a multitude of factors whether it’s COVID. It’s the one screaming at us. We could talk culture, risks, all sorts of different ways where adversity impacts an individual. I deal with it better sometimes than others as a dad of four and as an entrepreneur, is that sometimes you have to let go of the things you can’t control.

It’s such an old cliché of control what you can and know the difference between what you can and cannot and let go of the stuff you cannot control. It’s such a simple thing, but it’s always in my belief that when I think about whatever adversity I’m having, I can only control how I respond to that adversity. After that, it’s up to that particular point, your response. When people start blaming, that’s when the adversity gets worse because you’re letting it define who you are as an individual. When you were going through your adversity, out of curiosity, how did you pivot? I would imagine initially it was, “Why me?” This is the norm, but how did you pivot from, “Why me?” to, “This is my blessing. This is my opportunity?”

I found that the blame and the pity and everything else wasn’t working. You don’t gain anything from that. It doesn’t make a situation better. It makes it worse. You’re looking for relief and a sense of freedom. Those things don’t bring that at all. Over time, you find yourself getting better. Things aren’t changing and you’re not getting what you’re looking for and what you’re wanting. It was asking myself in this, “What do I want? Why am I feeling so much pain?” Feeling the way I was feeling about it wasn’t helping it. It wasn’t getting me to what I want. Realizing what I want was to be pain-free or to get to a certain space where I felt better. That led to another question, what do I need to do? How do I need to feel? How do I need to view this in order to experience that?

What’s awesome about that and this is the point I’m trying to make, is that through all of that transitional period of your life, you could have had a hundred people telling you what to do, but the only one who had the choice on how to react to it was you. You described all of that in that statement, “I want to transform. I didn’t want the pity. I didn’t want the pain.” I’m sure your mom and your friends and your cousins told you, “You’re better than this. You could deal with this.” Maybe they even held you back by saying, “Woe is you.” The center of all of that was the choice making that you made for yourself, which is one of the essences of resilience.

You’re the expert in resilience, but that resilience is you making choices in the face of seemingly improbable situations to find the good or the grace in that situation to go forward, to figure out where your opportunities lie at the moment that you’re in so that you can become what you want to be, whatever that is. That’s not money and fame. That could be a better human being, a better dad, a better son, a better whatever. I’m acknowledging your point of view is what I’m trying to say. You said it better than I did, but it’s about putting you at the center.

I’m glad we’re getting to the heart of this because every individual has a responsibility to get to this space whenever they’re faced. Here’s what everyone on earth has in common regardless of race, financial status, whatever, they’re all going to face some level of adversity. The discriminator is how do they respond to it? What lens do they put on? This is what discriminates or separates the haves from the have-nots, the people who make it and those that don’t, the ones to get up, the ones that stay in that space. We all are charged with the responsibility and the privilege to manage and navigate adversity because it’s the common thread between all people is adversity, but what makes the difference is how you navigate it. What I’m advising for people is to first take that step back and think about how you are responding and reacting to the adversity that shows up in your life.

I personally think it’s necessary. Without adversity, there are certain things you won’t realize about yourself. There’s the inner power within you or the inner level of strength that only is activated when there is the right amount of pressure to bring that out. What I love about life is it is able to apply that pressure to you. A lot of times we’re not taught or we’re not skilled enough to understand what is happening. What we perceive is, “Woe was me? Life is unfair to me. Life has dealt me a bad hand.” Where life is trying to get to the juice, the real essence of who you are and what’s been put in you, something that you haven’t even discovered about yourself before. If you don’t have that perception about it, you will never rise to that level.

My wife and I had this conversation. My ten-year-old daughter, she’s my second oldest. She’s starting to have panic attacks and the panic attacks are predicated on not feeling good about herself or not as good as her siblings at something or whatever that negative. She has dyslexia and her brother underneath her who’s seven is intellectually a rockstar. He can spell words that she can’t spell and her brother above her is super athletic and she’s not. She’s in this weird space where every time she has something that she perceives as negative about herself, she goes into a panic attack. My wife and I were talking about what do we do to find her confidence? What do we do to empower her?

Mary is my wife’s name. She wanted to protect her a bit, not in a negative way, but in a motherly way. I was like, “No. Let’s let her deal with this and let’s give her the supporting tools to develop the level of resiliency so that when she’s 22, she’s crushing it.” When everyone else is struggling with this, “I can’t find a job. I can’t do this,” she’s got it. I said that the tendency for a lot of parents from a good place is to protect their kids and put them over here in this bubble. The long-term ramifications for that are ten times worse than the momentary complexity of teaching your kids to be more resilient and reflective and supportive.

GCM 153 | Thriving In Adversity

The Crucible’s Gift: 5 Lessons from Authentic Leaders Who Thrive in Adversity – https://www.drjameskelley.com/crucibles-gift

I said, “Lucy, you are in control of how you respond to all this adversity. You’re it. No one tells you to be upset or to have anxiety or compare yourself to anybody else. You’re telling yourself. Until you realize that you’re in control of your own choices and attitude, it doesn’t matter. Your brothers don’t have intuition. They couldn’t build a box. You have intuition. You can cook, your brothers can’t. You are compassionate, your brothers aren’t. You have a set of gifts that are amazing and it should be your focus. Don’t focus on what you cannot do well. Focus on what you do amazingly and that is your true joy.” I’m not trying to pontificate here, but the point I’m trying to make is to your point, is that the only thing we can control is ourselves. As you’re raising kids about resiliency, it is important as parents not to put your kids in a bubble because they’re uncomfortable in a moment. That moment could be a real ripple of a lifetime.

In our household, the mantra is, “Don’t let fear conquer you, conquer fear.” That’s the mantra of our house. The reason is that often fears that this decision point of a runaway or run into. I believe that if you run into it on the other side of it, you are a better human being, more compassionate, more patient, more open, more resilient, and more productive. The outcome on the other side of that, more confident is ten times, but if you go the other way and you run away from it, the long-term ramifications of that is, “I can’t do it. I’m not good enough. I don’t deserve it,” or blame is even the worst side of it. “I’m a victim.” For me, victim mentality, I don’t have compassion for that. Victim mentality is not my strength because that goes to the choice point.

You bring up a good point. You talk about leaning into it. If you want to think about a butterfly when it’s attempting to come out of its cocoon. That’s called struggle. It’s hard for it to come out of this cocoon, having to do all of these things to come out. It takes them all the time. If you were to go help that butterfly comes out of that cocoon, it is detrimental to its life because it didn’t develop the strength and the skillset that it needs to eventually be able to fly. For a lot of people, it’s not the actual fear of struggle. People don’t want to struggle. They don’t want to go through failing. They don’t want to go through not getting it right and in the judgment and all the other things that go along with that.

What you have to understand is that without the struggle, you don’t develop the skillset. The skillset is developed through the struggle. In life, everything is a process. To be great, to bounce back, to get to the other side of the mountain is a process. Everyone wants to go up in life, but not everyone wants to climb. It’s hard to climb. You got to pull yourself up, you got to step up. That’s difficult. That’s work. That’s a struggle. In order to get on the top of the mountain, you got to have the strength to do it. Part of building the strength is climbing.

What do you find when you’re working with your clients, the ones that get it and don’t? What is the trait you think that they have where they start to pivot between the two of saying, “I’m going to embrace this,” versus, “I’m going to run from this?”

They don’t look at it as something that’s happening to them. It’s something that’s happening for them. It’s a necessary evil. It’s like a tree. You have to throw dirt on a seed in order for it to grow, in order for what’s in the seed to come out of it. If you don’t throw dirt on it, if it’s not in the ground, it won’t germinate. It won’t do what it’s supposed to do. It won’t become what it’s supposed to be. Sometimes to me in life, you get dirt thrown on you. Things happen to you that are not favorable. You can walk by a lot of seeds in the ground and there’s nothing. You don’t feel like there’s any benefit of even being in this space, because there’s nothing for you to look at. It’s not until the tree comes out of the ground and blossoms or bears fruit that you even get any appreciation for that.

Adversity gets worse if you let it define who you are. Click To Tweet

Without that process, you will never get to a place where you can enjoy the truth. That’s my message to people, is that we have to enjoy the ebbs and flows of life. Sometimes those valleys are what allows us to enjoy the peaks. If I had to describe it as graduation and going to school. In order for you to develop the skillset, to graduate from one level to the next, you have to go through the valleys of struggle or the valleys of adversity, because that’s where the character is built. That’s where the skillset is built. When you’re on the field playing the game and the defense is kicking your behind, that’s when you’re learning new strategies and ways to play the game. If you are always winning, you will always stay at one level. You will never get to a higher level because there’s never anything that’s pressing upon you or forcing you to get better as an individual.

I love what you said. I did a TEDx Talk in 2019. The whole premise was the to for. It happened to me. It happened to me. That was the premise of the whole talk. There’s psychology around that. Changing that preposition changes the chemical output in your brain. By using that language, it allows you to grow. For you is a growth word and to you is a victim word. It’s powerful to look at a lot of adversity as for not to. Not everyone starts in the for the category, they’ll start to the category. My story, my dad died when I was twenty. Suddenly, after six months sickness died. It was for me. I drank a lot. I barely got through college. I ended getting my first job and I got a DUI in the company car. When I got the DUI, the court-mandated that I went to an outpatient program.

I played the role well, handsome, young white guy. I couldn’t be a burden to society. Total stereotype, what you think would happen. When I went to this outpatient program, it was six months. It was four days a week, three hours a night. It was for six months, one day, a week, and three hours a night. It was a psychologist. I think at 24, not only do most individuals think they’re invincible 24, that’s the reality, especially men. My prefrontal cortex was definitely not developed at that point. I had the wherewithal to realize that if I have to go do this, I can go in and be a victim and never grow, or I could go in and see the opportunity of how it could be better. For me, that DUI and that going through that outpatient program was the fundamental transition adversity of it happens to me to it happened for me.

The reason I was able to make that transition is that I also took ownership and accountability for the mistake or errors in that adversity. In owning what my role was in it, it allowed me to move from to for easy. That was easy for me to say in that example because I was at fault. Your example is different, or if someone’s got a car accident, it’s different. There’s always some accountability. In my mind, if it’s something that I didn’t have control over, accountability is my attitude. That’s where the accountability goes from at that point. I love that. I think that to me is such a critical phrase of to and for and chemically the transition that happens is powerful.

I want to address if it’s not something that you’ve caused on yourself or a mistake or self-induced situation. Maybe accountability isn’t the word, but it’s an opportunity.

Maybe it’s your responsibility to look differently.

I believe that whenever something happens, who am I going to be in that? I think it is a responsibility. For me, I’m still going to school. If something happens to me, I understand who I am. I understand what my purpose is. I understand how I need to show up in life, where I want to go. Am I going to be the type of person that says, “That can’t happen now because this has shown up? I can’t reach that goal. I can’t score. I can’t do what I have started out to do?” I believe that even though that showed up, perhaps there’s something I need to learn. Perhaps there’s another way I need to go. Perhaps there’s something different I need to think about, maybe a pivot that I need to take in order to get where I need to go.

It’s my responsibility to understand that in this, to navigate that. I still don’t get a green card that says, “It’s okay. You get a pass.” There’s still no excuse. Even with COVID and understanding everything that’s happening to COVID and I know this may be hard for some people to accept, but there’s a lot of opportunities that are happening with COVID. There’s a lot of bad things that have happened with COVID, but if you’re still alive, healthy, and breathing, you still have the opportunity in COVID. Even though COVID may have affected you. It started with my accident. My accident was traumatizing. It was debilitating, but yet I still leverage the responsibility on myself to be successful, to be an effective and productive citizen in society. To make a change, to be impactful, to be independent, to find a way to do all of those things given all of those circumstances and with society saying, “If you give up, we understand.”

Regardless of all of that, I still took that on. As a result of that, I became a better person. Society is better because of that contribution that I’m able to give as a result of that. When you have that type of mentality, that’s what I call making a positive impact on the world. I think we, as individuals, are charged with that. When you don’t have that mentality, then you can’t see the person. You never get the experience the person you would be if you are the person that would have the mindset to overcome, to not give up, to find a way, to navigate the challenge, to get everything that is good for you that you can gain from this experience.

There’s a Stanford psychologist named Carol Dweck. I have a PhD in Consumer Psychology. That’s my background. There’s a psychologist in Stanford and her whole concept is a growth mindset. What you’re talking about are individuals that look for the opportunities in the bag, look for the opportunities to accelerate their own personal growth. They are not a blame an individual. They are accountable individuals. When they work in teams, for example, they don’t take credit for success. They distribute the credit, but they take the blame for the mistakes and they own it and figure how to fix the problem. There’s the growth mindset. You’re not either growth or fixed, those are the poles. You’re on a spectrum depending on the context or what it is.

The reality is, what you’re talking about from a personal perspective and this is in the book, is this desire to learn and grow. This differentiates those that get it and those that don’t, and there’s no reason why if you’re someone who is fixed you can’t become growth, but you can’t be growth overnight. You didn’t learn to walk overnight, or I didn’t lose my hair overnight or whatever. It all happens over time. The difference is that, if you’re someone who’s fixed and you want to move to growth, you’ve got to take micro-moments and micro opportunities to develop that muscle to grow and look for opportunities. Whether it’s reading is one thing new a day, practicing one skill a day, one skill a week. Often when we think about adversity and transition and growing and whatever, we think it has to happen at once.

We think it’s, “I either get it or I don’t. I have the ability or I don’t.” I interviewed over 150 people for my book, executives, CEOs, and things like that. What I found is that the leaders that got it, who thrived, were the ones who embrace their adversity, who went from to for. It didn’t happen overnight. Some of the best stories took ten years for them to figure out that their life was a complete train wreck, even though they were successful. It took a series of events over time and looking back in time where it started to get to where they’re at to say, “I don’t like that. I needed to change to move forward and to change and move forward is going to take me steps to get there over time.”

That’s a big lesson to what you’re explaining to me at least and how it’s articulated in literature is this notion of a growth mindset. It’s a powerful tool and it separates those who are fixed. Fixed people don’t want to change. Fixed people want no blame. Fixed people want to find reasons to fail because to make the change is uncomfortable for them, the cocoon effect again. The struggle is uncomfortable so then it’s easier to blame a stay still than to fight through and grow the wings. I love that. I’m trying to articulate it in a pompous, academic way instead of your articulate, smooth way.

GCM 153 | Thriving In Adversity

Thriving In Adversity: It’s important not to put our kids in a bubble because when they’re uncomfortable in a moment, that moment could be a real ripple of a lifetime.


I have a question for you as a psychologist because I believe that the purpose of life in and of itself is to learn and grow. Live graciously provides opportunities for that to happen for us. We don’t always perceive it like that, but to me, it’s a great big field of opportunities to grow. We’re out here playing this game. The resistance that we feel is negative. It feels that way. I can imagine if the butterfly would talk, he probably wouldn’t like the fact that he’s wrapped up in this cocoon and has to struggle for however long it takes to come out and fly, especially realizing the lifespan of a butterfly. They’re probably like, “Forget it.”

That’s the way it is. Once we can understand that to be alive and the things that happened to us in life is part of life’s purpose, then we don’t have to feel this way about it anymore. It creates different meaning for us. I’m not a fixed mindset person so I don’t know what their basis is for that. When you have that meaning, you understand that everything, whatever it is, however hard it is, how peaceful it is, it’s part of this purposeful energy that exists called life. If I’m in alignment with that purpose, I’m going to come out of this okay one way or another. Even if I don’t get where I want to go, I’m going to be better than where I am if I have the right attitude and mindset about it.

The reality of fixed, depending on the circumstance and context is fear. I am a huge believer that fear’s the paralyzer of growth. It comes up in every form, fear of being healthy, fear of reading a book, fear of date, or whatever it is. Fear is to me at the root of a lot of it. That fear is usually predicated either on the unknown or previous experience. “I don’t know what’s going to happen and I’m too scared that I could fail, or I’m too scared I can get hurt so I’m not going to go. In the past, I was hurt and I did fail, why would I try it again?” Everyone has their own life journey. I’m not here to judge someone’s journey. Let’s have an example. Having taught in higher ed for twelve years before I left it, you would see a lot of students who wouldn’t make certain choices because of the fear they could fail. I’d always say to them, “How do you’re going to fail?” They’re like, “What if I do?” “How do you know you will?”

There’s this circular conversation where they couldn’t get past that point of, “If I don’t try, I’ll never know.” That’s the reality of fear is that often, it’s the parallelization of what could go wrong, not asking the right question of what could go right. If it goes right or even if it goes wrong, then the question is, “What did I learn because that’s the opportunity?” You’re still putting that frame in an appreciative model to constantly be saying, “I lost my money, but you know what I learned? I better spend it more wisely.” That’s why I think talking about people who are a fixed mindset, it’s typically a fear-based or experience-based predicated fear that doesn’t allow them to take that growth mentality. You’re an anomaly. You’re the 1%. It’s easier for you like, “Why would you not try? You’re stuck, you’d be better here.” I think the harder conversation is to understand why they’re stuck and what’s the trigger that needs to make them take that first step? This is what you do with your training and your coaching.

Let’s talk about that because a lot of times the decisions that are made, to do something or not do something to try or not to try are based on something that may or may not happen. It doesn’t even exist. It’s the possibility, but so is your objective and your goal. It’s all possible. If you’re driving a car, it’s possible that you’ll come in contact with a drunk driver who is drinking and swerves out of his lane and kills you. That’s possible, yet we get in a car every day to drive where we need to go. When it comes to taking a chance or putting forth effort on something that maybe the doctor says you couldn’t do or your mom or your dad failed at, or no one in your family has ever achieved, or to get over this seemingly impossible obstacle, you don’t want to take that chance because it might not work out for you. My question is, what is the alternative? That’s what I would ask myself. I’m not a gambler, but I know if I don’t bet, I can’t win. If I don’t put my money down, I’m not going to win. I believe in giving yourself the opportunity of possibility.

Don’t let fear conquer you; conquer fear. Click To Tweet

Let’s stick to gambling. Let’s look at roulette. You can bet black or red. That’s a 50/50 chance every time. Even if you get the bare minimum, if you think about the possibilities, if you’re not even betting to win 50% of the time, that means you have 100% of never the option of winning. That’s the mentality that’s fascinating. I cashed out my 401(k) for my business. I invested an additional $15,000 in my pocket. I am all in. I don’t have a plan B. What’s fascinating about that is that I know that if I don’t play the game, I don’t have an opportunity to win the game so then I’m in the game.

Whenever I played a game, I know that there’s going to be resistance. I know there’s going to be opposition. You have to know that. That’s the nature of the game. It’s going to show up. If you don’t play, you can’t score. The opposition is the strategy. That’s all. Everything that shows up in your life is all about strategy. It’s you finding out how to navigate it. It’s all about skillset. It’s about your belief in yourself, understanding who you are and what role you play in your own life, understanding what your strengths and weaknesses are, and then applying it to the things that show up in your life, your network, your habits, your rituals, and your thoughts about yourself.

This is your profile, and you should be able to look at your profile and realize that you can overcome anything because of the type of player and skillset that you have. When there are skills that you don’t have, you have people in your network where you can tap into. That’s called teamwork. When you have that level of mindset, there is no opposition that can defeat you. It may slow you down, hurt you, hit you, but it doesn’t have to stop you. Even the greatest people get hit, but then they figure out, “What do I need to do? How do I adjust? How do I adapt to get back up and continue with my objective?”

Where does your strength come from? Did it come from a parent growing up and that was your internal strength? The book’s called The Crucibles Gift. The crucible, it’s when you have two metals pressured together. Was your accident the pressure that formed you? You were young, in high school. You’re forming at that point. Where did you pull your strength from to make the mental decisions that you made that put you where you’re at that moment?

It was a combination of things. I had a good support system that was spiritual, and I had a nice family around me that was supportive. I had a mom that would not let me quit.

Was your mom the center?

I wouldn’t say she was the center. I think if I have to point to the one thing, it has to be my sports mentality, my aggression towards football. I would have to say that’s the essence of it because that’s what still carries me through now. I still wanted to score and I was a running back. As a running back, you get the ball, and people are out there trying to tackle you. A lot of times you get hit you have to get back up, get the ball again, and try it again. You get hit over and over. Your objective is to gain inches, to gain yards. Every time you get the ball, I want to take it this far. If I can get this far, then that’s going to give me an opportunity that I can try again. As long as I’m getting my 10 yards, every 3 to 4 downs, I keep having the opportunity to get the ball again.

As long as I keep doing that, eventually, I’m going to get to the goal that I’m trying to get to. I never want to give up because of that. I know what the alternative is. The alternative is not getting good. The alternative is giving up. The alternative is for me atrophy and death and living a life that I don’t care to live. A lot of people will call me handicapped or disabled, but you look at my life and you’re like, “It doesn’t much apply to him,” because of the life that I live, the life I’ve created for myself. It’s because I don’t want to live that. If I lived that life, it would be okay but it’s not okay for me. There’s only one way and that’s forward, down the field, we’re not going back.

GCM 153 | Thriving In Adversity

Thriving In Adversity: Resilience doesn’t happen overnight. You have to take micro opportunities to develop that muscle.


Do you have any children?


If you had a son, would you let him play football?

Yes, I will let him play football. It’s a loaded question. You can’t live your life based on past circumstances, especially someone else’s circumstances because life could happen anywhere. To say, “I’m not going to play football,” is to say, “I’m never getting in a car. I’m never going to allow my child to go out with his friends. I’m never going to allow my child to do anything because life is risky.” If you’re on the field, you’re liable to get hit. Everyone doesn’t always play by the rules. Someone may be out there, they’re crazy. They do something that’s foul play. You don’t know, but yet you still got to play. You still have to get out there. Not all butterflies make it out because something comes by and eats one of them every night. That’s the nature of the game and you have no control over that, but you still have to play. I’m grounded as a spirit. I wake up every day asking for protection. I realize I’m on the court. I’m on the field. These can happen, but I’m asking for mercy, for protection.

I’ll also ask you to give me the skillset and the tools that I need to play my best game every single day, to show up for my team, high performer, no fear, lay it all out. If that’s the way I go out, then at least I go out 100% doing what I have been put on this Earth to do. I’m okay with that because you can’t play it safe. The thing about it is, you’re going to leave here one day anyway. The question is, what did you do with the time that you were here? Did you play? That’s how people are going to remember you. They’re going to remember how you play, were you’re timid? Were you’re afraid to open the door? Were you’re afraid to run down the field? Where you’re afraid to carry the ball? What happened when you got hit? You want to go on the sideline. You didn’t want to come back in the game. You called it quits. You thought it was over. That’s not me. I refuse to play that game.

I played water polo growing up, not football. I was not manly enough for football. I didn’t like getting hit, ironically. I was thinking, “Would I let my sons play football if I had the same accident you had?” I don’t know. I think your point of view is right. Why would I let my past circumstance define what my kid may or may not want to do because it’s their journey, their life?

Ninety percent and it’s probably a higher percentage of people have experienced some type of traumatic event when were young and no one knows about, but yet it’s dictating how they act and behave as an adult. They take that and they levy that on their kids because they don’t want their kids to feel the pain that they feel. The kid is innocent. They don’t even realize that mom and dad are placing this upon me and that is dictating them and how they’re going to perform and what they’re going to do in their beliefs and ideas about themselves and their identity when they become an adult. There’s this ripple effect. We have these generational issues that haven’t been dealt with because people want to levy these things on other people and their children in an effort to protect them, but at the same time, it’s hindering them.

We started off the conversation about you can’t protect the child because we got to teach them resilience, but teaching resilience is a little bit uncomfortable. It hurts a bit to see the child struggle, to see the child go through those types of things, but yet it is necessary because resilience is one of those skillsets that can be learned but it is uncomfortable. You have to learn how to bounce back through experience. If we can do this with kids at a young age, whenever situations like COVID come up, we won’t have a crisis that everyone’s afraid of what’s going to happen next, because we’ll have an understanding of our own skillset and we can create what happens next, because we understand that we’re crew creators with the universe. We don’t even have that. There’s all this uncertainty because we don’t have the resilient tools and skillsets that are necessary in order for us to progress forward because we haven’t been through those situations. We’ve been protected from that.

I appreciate your perspective on it. That’s unique, because of your circumstance, it’s the minority of the minority. I’ve contradicted myself when it comes to trying to not shield my daughter around resilience. I think to myself if I got hurt, would I do that and I don’t know. You’re clearly passionate about football. Football defined your strength, your drive, your metaphors are predicated in the notion of yards and inches and going forward in scoring. For you, football was this defining moment in your life, both from fun and from a functional and from an adversity standpoint. I can hear your passion. It’s awesome to see that you would do that. I don’t know if I would have had the strength to do that, but I haven’t been in your shoes so maybe I would if I walked in your steps.

I don’t know if you would or not. It may be because there’s been a lot of pain and it may be one of those things where I don’t ever want my child to experience this pain. It could be out of fear. The mistake I don’t want to make is to not allow my child to play football out of trying to protect them fulfilling this fear and they feel the fear from something else that happens in life. The thing about life, you can’t control life. Life is going to happen. I can’t dictate the opposition. Wouldn’t it be nice if you can get on the field and say, “I want to play that team?” You would never choose to put pressurized opposition on yourself if you had the choice. Me, I want to go against the greatest opposition and win, because that says a lot about me. I know I’m to grow in those situations.

You said the best version of you and I’m thinking you want to play against the best. Does that mean you want to be the best, but also the best version of you?

No. I’m using that as an analogy. I don’t want to compete with anyone, but what I’m saying is whenever the opposition shows up for me, whatever it is, I’m looking at it as it may be great opposition and I’m going to rise up to that challenge. As an individual, I’m not going to have a pity party. I’m not going to get, “I’ve been upset with God.” None of that works. I’m going to look at myself and say, “This is what life has thrown at me. I’m going to take the responsibility to deal with it. This is what it is and I’m going to overcome it. The pain isn’t going to define me.” I’m going to define myself in how I respond to this. I know I have a relationship with spirit, with the universe, with God and I’m going to perceive this as an opportunity for me to grow and to get better. That’s how I’m going to play it.

Thank you for sharing all that. That’s great. That was deep.

We all have that responsibility to view it that way.

Responsibility, but not everyone takes on that responsibility. That’s the gift you’re trying to share, this is why.

I only gave you 50%. I felt like it’s a responsibility and a privilege. We feel that there’s nothing for us. The way my perspective on this is a lot of people may feel that there’s nothing to gain when they’re faced with opposition. My message is there’s so much to gain, there’s everything to gain. Let me give you an example. Look at organizations and the changes that they’re making. Organizations had the opportunity to make the changes that they were making before COVID, they had those opportunities. They could have decided, “I’m going to send my workforce home. I could cut my over here by X percent. I can invest in the technology for my employees to telework and they don’t have to come here, and I may even be more productive if I decide to do that.” Corporations didn’t make that decision.

GCM 153 | Thriving In Adversity

Thriving In Adversity: Fear is the paralyzer of growth.


COVID has come. They were forced to make that decision. A lot of companies are seeing the benefit of that decision, but they could have made that decision a long time ago. They didn’t choose to do that. Sometimes things have to happen in life in order for you to see it’s time for you to take another lane, the lane that your own, it’s not a bad lane. We get complacent, comfortable with the status quo, and sometimes life has to come and knock us down in order for us to see, “You got this far. I’m able to do this and I’m able to do even more.” It takes you getting knocked down for you to see that. You can look at a lot of sports players like Michael Jordan. You can look at things that happen to Kobe Bryant early in history and other great legendary players. Tom Brady, wasn’t a first-round draft pick, but he became arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history. It was the adversity and there was a drive-in Tom Brady because he was drafted so low. If he was drafted first round, I don’t think Tom Brady would be the person that he is.

That was a pivotal moment. We have to learn to embrace the pivotal moments that show up in our lives because they could be the defining moments for us. They could take us in directions that we hadn’t even thought about. That’s exactly what happened to me. That hit on the field that was seeming to my demise has caused me to be in a place today where I’m affecting millions of people out of words that are coming out of my mouth and the experience that I’ve had. A lot more than what I would’ve done probably by continuing to be the football player that I was and all that greatness. That’s something to think about whenever you’re in that space where you feel life has punched you in the face. Has it punched you? It may feel you’ve been punched in the face, but you have to ask yourself what’s happening here.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with acknowledging you’ve been hit or punched or in adversity. I think that acknowledgment is a process of grieving. It’s what you do with it after you’ve acknowledged it. I think that’s always, to me, the critical piece of the puzzle. I’ve had my father die. I’ve been fired from two jobs. I’ve moved countries three times as an adult. All of these are different adversity points in your life. Getting married can be an adversity point. It’s a good adversity point, but it’s an adversity point. The question always for me is that, do you acknowledge it? Are you aware of it? What are you going to do about it? That process is different timeframes, but it’s always essential in the end. You and I are on the same page with adversity. If I was on the opposite page, I’m not sure I’d be here, but that can be interesting, that was opposites.

If your kids play sports, one of them does play sports, but let’s say all three of them play sports and they were in a game. This was a tight game. They’re equally matched, then the opposing team did something that shocked the team that your kids are on and it put them in a place of where they felt they could possibly be defeated. They weren’t expecting that play. It was a total shock. What would be the expectation of you for your kids at that moment?

I’m going to answer this in two parts. The reason why is, my background in sport plays an important part in this. Water polo is a vicious sport, differently so than football, but there’s a lot of “cheating” that goes on under the water. A lot of grabbing the swimsuits, holding people underwater, punching you in the water, kicking you underwater, all illegal, but you can’t see it because it’s underwater. Playing a sport of water polo, I started playing when I was twelve, teaches you very quickly that because someone isn’t abiding by the rules, it doesn’t mean that you have to let that fluster you to play by the rules. What I learned young is that this person may hold my suit or holding me underwater, but the referee doesn’t see it and the referee doesn’t care so don’t let it impact me. I’ve got to still try to win.

I used to get mad at the kids and parents that would yell at the referee and scream at the referee. In that instance, I would tell my kids to deal with it, figure out how you can defeat it, and keep going forward without being dirty or cheap or any of that stuff. Ethically that’s not who we are as a family, but the reality is it’s going to happen, and you can either let it take you off your mojo or you can use it to fuel your mojo. Another example, in any sport it’s the second person that always gets caught. First-person hits, kicks, punches, the second person turns around, does it, though he gets caught, gets kicked out. It’s always the lesson with our kids.

I have four kids. My youngest is the most viciously competitive child of the lot. She is brutal. She will do whatever it takes to win. When it comes to your example, I was telling her to deal with it like, “That’s how it is. That person will get their due at some point. It could be you scoring on them. It could be the team winning. It will happen at some point. If it’s not now, it’ll be down the road.” That’s been my frame of reference. I’m not that type of parent that’s going to freak out and scream. There’ll be a line like if some kid decked my child. In the flow of the game, if you’re playing soccer or whatever, holding a jersey.

I think because that’s life. Life isn’t always fair. Life isn’t always going to give you the lemonades that you want. Life is going to give you lemons sometimes and it’s what you choose to do with it. In sport, the individuals that excel are the ones that can block out all that noise and stay focused on the goal to the end. The goal to the end is to win as a team or if you’re an individual sport to win as an individual. If you let every little bit of noise impact you in a game, it means you’re out of the game. When I used to play, I would find that person and I would niggle them the whole entire game until they lost their temper. I knew you can get under their skin and they would fall off course. It’s a metaphor for life. Life is not easy. It’s not straight forward. It’s not always fair, but if you have your mission or your purpose, then it’s easy to stay focused on what you want to do.

I have a personal trainer come in. We work out five days a week and it’s a grind and I’m aggressive. He’s aggressive. We’re doing things that are challenging and I’ll admit sometimes I get frustrated because I want to progress faster than I am progressing. I want to do more than what I’m doing. I’m ready to conquer. I want to get over this challenge because I’m looking forward to the next challenge. When I don’t or there’s limitations, sometimes I get flustered. Sometimes I get frustrated. He has these things about, “Stay in the game.” That’s what it’s about here. It’s about staying in the game. It’s not about COVID. It’s not about whatever challenges present in your life. Once you get over that challenge, there’s another one coming as long as you’re alive and breathing. It’s not the challenge, it’s you. It’s always been you. It always will be you and how you navigate these challenges and what you’re charged with staying in the game.

What you’re describing is that people at a point in time define a journey of life. If you’re in the game, you’re focused on the journey of life, not the point in time. You can realize the difference. That adversity, that workout that’s held for you is a point in time. It’s not the end destination. Knowing the difference between the two is critical. That goes back to a growth mindset. That goes back to the to and for me, but it’s knowing that difference that these are points in time. It’s difficult at this moment, but it will not be difficult in all moments. There’s the fundamental shift.

Life is not always fair, but if you have your mission and your purpose, then it's easy to stay focused on what you want to do. Click To Tweet

If it makes it helpful for people, it’s only temporary. I remember I used to tell myself this over and over again. It’s something simple, “It’s not going to last forever. It’s temporary. You got to get through this. You get through this, then you can move on to the next day. When you get to the next day, if that’s challenging, if that’s frustrating, it’s temporary. Don’t worry about it.” In the story that we tell ourselves when we’re in those spaces because we tell ourselves very defeating stories. Make up a good story. Make it good for you. The thing about it is, it doesn’t matter what the challenge is. You can make up a great story about it. It doesn’t matter what it is. You have the ability to do that. You can make up a great story.

There’s power in the story too. Good stories elicit powerful thoughts and emotions, which go to endorphins in your brain. The biggest defeater for an individual is destructive self-narrative. I fall into that still even though I know better because I’m human. My mom tells the worst self-narrative and she feels awful about herself and she’s depressed a lot. It’s because the narrative and her world are, “I’m alone.” versus the narrative could be, “I get to see my grandkids and my son on a regular basis.” That narrative isn’t what she wants to tell herself. I think that’s important.

I’ve been in a wheelchair for eighteen years and I was able to stop using the chair and I use crutches. I’ve been using crutches. Through all of that time, through all of my accident, through all of the years that I’ve had to deal with this, I still call myself an athlete. I’m an athlete. That’s what I identify with. I don’t identify with the accident. I identify with the person I desire to be and a lot of times we allow what happens to us to become our identity.

Do you find yourself get frustrated with people who are victims?

No, because I know it’s education. It’s all it is. They don’t know. If you don’t know, you don’t know. If you’re not awake, you’re not awake. If you don’t know how to identify with something different and I know it’s hard. For some of these things, it can be so debilitating that that’s all you see. You can’t see the trees because of the forest.

I was thinking about that. I don’t have the patience for victims, but I should embrace your mindset about it way more. Short-term victimization I’m okay with, but it’s the long-term victimization. I grew up in a family full of victims and I don’t have the patience for the lack of accountability. I’ll use my brother as an example. I’ve got a brother who’s 50 plus, and I don’t think I’ve met anyone who’s had a harder life than he’s had. You’ve probably had a hard life than he’s had, you just made good choices. He systematically put himself in negative situations to create more bad situations and blamed every single entity out there in the world.

I need to grow some compassion, but I stopped caring about his victimhood and the blaming because he’s making his own choice as a man, as an individual. If you are a horse on a horse track with the blinders on and don’t have the ability to look obliquely to either side to see there are other opportunities, at some point you’re going to hit a brick wall. For him, he’s probably hit about 100 of them. In and out of jail, selling drugs, on and off OxyContin, lying, stealing, lost his kids, 40 years of this. At some point, you’re like, “I feel for you. I love you. You’re my brother, but you’ve got to pull your pants up and figure some stuff out.” That’s where my patience runs out because he’s impacted my mom, his kids. I think that’s where I’m talking about it from.

I have someone like that in my family as well. I’ve tried to talk, to educate, to be an example, but some people refuse to take the responsibility for themselves and they look for you to do everything for them. No, I don’t have the patience for that because that takes away from the people who obstacles to serve, who need to care for me. I can’t put energy in that one person who doesn’t want to get it for the sake of all the other people who are looking for answers that want help. I choose not to put my energy into that. It comes a time where you have to make a decision. You are responsible and there’s only so far that your teammates are going to be able to take you before you have to start carrying your own weight as an individual. You are charged, every one of us is charged.

You have a contribution that has to come forward. Life is here to support you. The universe is here to support you and you have your teammates that are here to support you. You have to take that and you have to create and produce and perform to the expectations that have been placed upon you. If you don’t, the coach is going to sit you down and you’re going to have the round the bitch. That’s what it is because there’s a game that still has to be played. If you’re not going to pull your weight and do your part, the entire team can’t go down because you don’t want to play. You don’t want to get it. You don’t want to study the film. You don’t want to do what you supposed to do as an individual player to play.

It’s still clear to me that the big themes that we’re having in this conversation are about responsibility and it’s about opportunity. If you’re an individual who wants to be responsible about the choices that you make and seize the opportunities that may be in front of you in adversity, then you probably going to have a growth mindset. There’s so much power in that. The world is lucky to have someone like you in it who’s able to show them what real resiliency and adversity is. I’ve had people whine about, “I can’t. I don’t have any money on my credit card. I’ve charged $40,000 and I’m in debt.” I always say like, “Shut up.” Those are bad choices. That’s not adversity, that’s a bad choice that you can correct. My empathy sometimes runs shallow in extreme circumstances, but the world is better off for someone to explain what real resiliency is and what real opportunity is because often people don’t know how to define it in context. Their context is different than your context, but I think it puts meat on it.

Stress has never killed anyone. Overwhelm has never killed anyone. Adversity has never killed anyone in and of itself. It’s how we manage it. It’s not managing it properly. That’s how stress will get to you. If you don’t manage stress properly. Overwhelm, if you don’t manage it properly. Adversity, if you don’t manage it properly. If stress, overwhelm and adversity killed people, everyone would be dead. Resilience is all about management. It’s about self-care. It’s about emotional intelligence. It’s about spiritual grounded-ness. All of these things allow you to be resilient. Resilience is a skill set that can be learned.

I can remember when I was nineteen. I had to quit college at nineteen and moved back. I was going to college in the Midwest and moved back out west. When I was living with my grandma, she said to me, “I don’t worry about you, you’re resilient.” Hearing that affirmation of somebody who I love makes a big difference. I can imagine if you were to reflect on your journey, when people say to you, “You’re resilient.” That’s powerful. That’s empowering. I was thinking about that as you were talking, I remember my grandma’s saying that. I was like, “I am resilient. That’s right.”

You felt like you could take on some things. You felt like you can conquer some things.

Someone saw that in me. That’s the power.

They saw it in you and you spoke, that you begin to believe it for yourself. That’s the true magic when you believe you are. A lot of people don’t believe that they are resilient. They don’t believe they can bounce back. James, I’ve taken a risk in my life that is questionable. Some of the decisions that I’ve made, or high-risk decisions, but the reason I was able to make those decisions because I was willing to bet on myself that if it didn’t work out I would still be okay. There are certain things in relationships we’re not willing to do because we don’t know if you’re going to be able to bounce back from those things. We don’t even believe in our own resilience.

That is why I left academia. Academia might be one of the safer jobs you can have on this planet. Everyone’s going to university. Everyone gets educated. I was a Marketing professor associate. I had a cushy job that I want it for the rest of my life, but I wanted to bet on myself. I wanted to bet on the opportunity which is what I love and what my wife and I had a discussion about is that, I could fall on my face and that’s okay because I can stand up on my feet and I can open another door and I can have another conversation and I can figure something else out because I’m not defined by my successes or my failures. I’m designed by the character of how I carry myself in public and in private with my family. I love that saying because when you’re willing to bet on yourself, it means you’re also willing to on the upside or the downside, and knowing that on either side, you’re still moving forward.

One way or another, you’re going to come out on the other side of this thing. That’s been a great conversation with you, James. I appreciate you doing what you do. The thought process that you have and the way that you’re able to articulate it is effective. It’s been a pleasure to have you on the show. How can people connect with you if they wanted to learn more about you?

We had a real conversation. I want to say thank you first of all. If you want to get the book, the easiest way to get the book for free, I’m giving it away on my website, audio or digital is to go to QChange.com. There’s a little area that says digital something, but it’s free to copy there. You can grab it there. For your audience, the other giveaway is you’re a coach and you probably know a bunch of coaches and you probably know a bunch of leaders. If I can have 30 seconds to describe the product, I think you’ll find it’s beneficial.

I left academia to do qChange. What qChange is, we’re trying to democratize leadership development. We want anyone who wants to get it inexpensive, to have it free for 30 days but to have it inside Microsoft Teams. The way that it works is that if you’re trying to grow your resilience, that’s one of them, being resilient. You would get nudged before the meeting, a prompt for the meeting that reminds you to do some resilient activity during the meeting that might be noticeable to your teammates. You get nudged before the meeting to do this activity. After the meeting, we ask you, “Rodney, do you feel like you were succinct, indirect, or resilient in this meeting by asking this conversation?” You would measure yourself 1 to 5. That’s a self-measure, but because you’ve invited trusted teammates, if they’re in the meeting, they also get asked, “Was Rodney resilient in the meeting?” They also then give you a ranking of 1 to 5. That information is aggregated and anonymous and is delivered to Rodney in real-time after the meeting. Rodney might be curious because he thought he was super resilient and they were like, “No, he was not resilient at all. He blew up in the meeting.”

When you get that quantitative feedback, you have the ability to ask for written feedback. All in real-time on your phone. The written feedback is structured. It says, “What was the situation?” We were at the meeting.” “What was the behavior?” “Rodney was blowing up at everybody because he wasn’t being resilient.” “What was the impact on you? “It made me feel a little human being that had no power.”

All of that is delivered to Rodney in real-time, anonymously as well to his phone in Microsoft Teams. You can track your performance on the different behaviors you want to work on. We have one of 43 different leader areas, but the premise of our business is that anyone can be a leader. It doesn’t have to be the CEO or the VP or the director. It could be a line manager who wants to become better at their job, a better communicator, a better big picture thinker. That is also free for 30 days. If you have Microsoft Teams, go to the website. You can install it straight away and that is yours for 30 days to check it out.

GCM 153 | Thriving In Adversity

Thriving In Adversity: The biggest defeater for an individual is destructive self-narrative.


Thank you for doing that. I appreciate that. We may have to get you back on the show to talk about leadership because you said something that triggered me, but we do not have time.

I’d love to do it again.

Before we end the show, I want to ask you if you have any tips about how we can bounce back from adversity, dominate our challenges and consistently win at the game of life, what would that be?

We touched on so many points in this conversation that could be defined in that question. If I was to summarize it simply, for me, all adversity, bouncing back, growth, almost everything begins and ends with the accountability of your responsibility to be a better human being. When you’re in a bad situation, you’d have to own whatever it is you have to own. Own it, acknowledge it, brace it, love it, hug it, kiss it. When you get through that, you’re able to say, “Here’s what I need to do to get to the other side and take the journey I need to go on.”

I want to add that to better yourself doesn’t mean that you’re bad. It means that you’re getting better. I don’t want people to think that I need to better myself to feel that they’re not good enough or they’re not a high performer. One of the things I loved about Michael Jordan, if you read the book Relentless by Tim Grover, he talks about how Mike was always pushing to the next level. Even with the first championship, second championship, third championship, fourth championship, and fifth championship. He is still pushing to get better. I enjoyed that because in life you can’t become complacent. If you are alive, that charge contributes and gets the best of yourself is still upon you. Even if you’re 60, 65, 70, there’s still a contribution. If you were given at 40, then you should be given more at 70.

I do this exercise in the book and it is to write down what you want on your tombstone. That becomes your focus, your purpose, and to achieve that isn’t easy. You’re not going to put down, “I made $1 million. I own five houses.” If you’re a real human being, “I’m a great dad, good husband, awesome friend.” That becomes your North Star.

We’re going to have to get you back because I want to talk about leadership and what you’re describing right there on values and how does value play in your life. How does value play in your leadership? How does it affect your behavior? Diving into those things, because if those things are your driving force, it’s not the $1 million and the five houses. Those things are meaningful. In society, we’ve lost track of the meaning of some of those values that you’re talking about.

We lost track of what those things mean. We’re distracted by the money and the success because you have to ask yourself, “What’s driving me today? Is it the money or is it those values?” What’s subconsciously driving you? I believe that 90% of your behavior’s subconscious, but you don’t realize, you’re being yourself. If you’re being yourself, what’s causing you to be the way you are. I believe it’s your value. A lot of times we don’t challenge those values. They were passed down from mom and dad and we run with it. Mom and dad seemed to be doing fine they turned out, we’re going to go with that. Thanks for coming on the show. This has been awesome.

Thank you so much.

Another successful episode. This was a loaded show and much value. My recommendation is to go back and read this over and over. Take a look at what’s coming up for you as you read some of the things that are being said. What’s controversial for you? Take note of that. If there’s something we’ve said or I’ve said that’s seemingly controversial or you’re not in agreement with, write that down. A study that, understand what that means for you, and how has it showing up in your life? How has it showed up in your decision-making and how may it show up in the future?

All growth begins and ends with your responsibility to become a better human being. Click To Tweet

Whatever you’re going through, if it’s COVID, social injustice, financial, you’ve been laid off, death, over time, something else is going to show up. What we want to do is pay close attention to how we respond, take inventory, how you’ve been responding to the adversity that shows up in your life. As you take a look at that, are you pleased with the way you’ve responded? What would you do differently? Take a look at some of the things that have shown up in your life and the way you’ve responded and the outcomes you were able to achieve or not. What would you want to change? What would you want to change about the way you perceive the challenge or the way you perceive yourself?

Think about that. Take some time to feel through that and read this over again. Maybe there are some skillsets that you want to develop that we’ve talked about here. Maybe there are some new ones you want to bring into your toolbox. We talked about a lot of things here. Take the time, check this out over and over. Share this with your friends and reach out to me, to James. Go get the book, The Crucible’s Gift: 5 Lessons From Authentic Leaders Who Want To Thrive in Adversity. These are people that have already played the game and they played it well. They’re successful. Grab this book so that you can learn how to play. Thank you again. Until next time, peace and love.

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About James Kelley

GCM 153 | Thriving In AdversityJames Kelley, Ph.D. is the founder of qChange, and is the international author of The Crucible’s Gift: 5 Lessons from Authentic Leaders Who Thrive in Adversity. James has spent the last 15+ years working in consulting, marketing, and higher education with a cross-section of leaders and organizations. James is a highly sought-after speaker on the topics of leadership and corporate wellbeing, appearing on over 50 of the top podcast on leadership, personal development, and start-ups. James currently resides just outside of Dubai where he teaches and lives with his wife and four kids.


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