The Power of Adversity: Tough Times Can Make You Stronger, Wiser, and Better


Misfortune . . . Failure . . . Illness . . . It seems adversity dooms us to lives of frustration.

Not so, according to dynamic industrialist and major philanthropist Al Weatherhead. He says adversity is not a curse but a gift—and that when we embrace our problems we temper and empower ourselves to achieve unimagined success.

With insight and compassion, Weatherhead helps us understand that the question we ...

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Misfortune . . . Failure . . . Illness . . . It seems adversity dooms us to lives of frustration.

Not so, according to dynamic industrialist and major philanthropist Al Weatherhead. He says adversity is not a curse but a gift—and that when we embrace our problems we temper and empower ourselves to achieve unimagined success.

With insight and compassion, Weatherhead helps us understand that the question we must ask ourselves when bowled over by life's troubles is not "Why me?" but instead, "Why not me?"

In the process, this pragmatic and profound book reveals the secret to achieving a greater understanding and mastery of life by harnessing the

Power of Adversity.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781571745620
  • Publisher: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/4/2008
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Al Weatherhead, chairman and CEO of Weatherhead Industries, endured wrenching family estrangement, serious arthritis and heart disease, and is a recovering alcoholic. Instead of surrendering to his adversity, he came to see it as a "blessed enemy" and leveraged it to achieve extraordinary personal and professional success. He lives with his wife in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Read an Excerpt


Tough Times Can Make You Stronger, Wiser, and Better


Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.

Copyright © 2008 Al Weatherhead, with Fred Feldman
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61283-169-5


We're Not Meant to Be Happy ... We're Meant to Grow

When written in Chinese the word "crisis" is composed of two characters—one represents danger and the other represents opportunity.

—John F. Kennedy

We face adversity every day. We spend most of our lives trying to bounce back from it. I'm not talking about gremlinlike, daily irritations such as traffic jams, computer glitches, and so on. We can usually shrug those off pretty well. I'm referring to tragic, life-changing adversity like cancer, divorce, and getting fired.

Such major adversity can drive any of us to contemplate the unthinkable: committing suicide quickly with a gun, a razor blade, or an overdose of pills, or killing ourselves more slowly, but just as effectively, by drowning our pain in booze or obliterating it, along with our minds, with mood-altering, addictive drugs.

Major adversity more often than not is the culprit that brings about the so-called deaths by natural causes of heart attack and stroke. And then there are the accidental deaths stemming from automobile accidents, plane crashes, and the various other tragedies attributed to human error or unknown mechanical failures. Nor can we rule out personal adversity and its role in distracting us and affecting our judgment at critical moments, from the pilot landing an airplane, to the mechanic servicing brakes, to the stressed-out mom or dad behind the wheel of the family car running a red light or not seeing a stop sign.

In all these dismal scenarios adversity breaks down our bodies and taxes our spirits with overwhelming despair. It is the Pandora's Box that floods us with misery. But there can be another scenario, if we learn how to tame adversity and make it serve us.

Believe me, I know, because I've had my share of major adversity, and from an early age.

I was born the son of an alcoholic and grandson of an alcoholic. I grew up and became an alcoholic, too.

I can only guess that my father abused alcohol to escape from huge self-induced stress due to his Type-A personality and his work as an industrialist. I often saw my father have beer at breakfast, drink whiskey at noon, and sleep until dinner. And here is the hardest part for me to tell you: I welcomed his drunkenness. Why? When he was sober, my father was cold and aloof. The only time my father ever told me "I love you" was when he was drunk.

I began sneaking drinks when I was twelve. My father was fun, affectionate, and warm when he was drunk. I wanted to be those things, too. At one point in my life as a drunkard, I could get from my bedroom to the basement, remove the hinge pins from the locked liquor cabinet, make a very dry twenty-ounce martini, replace the door, fly up the stairs, pausing at the kitchen fridge to throw ice in my oversized glass, and be back in my bedroom in less than ninety seconds. In this way I could drink to my heart's content while the household slept.

Later in this book I will tell more about how my drinking almost destroyed me. For now, I'll just make the point that my experience with adversity has not been limited to alcoholism. Far from it.

In My Life ...

• Just graduated from Harvard, bitter and frustrated over a falling-out with my father concerning my place in the family business, I hopped from one dead-end job to another. In Houston, I was a roustabout for Eastern States Petroleum; in Stamford, Connecticut, I was a stock chaser at Yale & Towne Manufacturing Company. I quit that job to move to Pittsburgh to do menial work in a factory that made road-paving equipment. I pretended I was finding myself, but in truth, my tumbleweed, professional odyssey was symptomatic of my utter inability to cope with the adversity of my dashed hopes and expectations concerning my working alongside my father.

• On a cruelly beautiful spring day in Connecticut, I had the heart-rending experience of burying my firstborn infant son. I stood trembling, the tears streaming down my cheeks, barely hearing the minister as I felt my own heart and soul sinking with my baby boy's tiny casket into that cold, dark grave.

• I tore through two marriages in a frenzy of shouted accusations, slammed doors, and lengthy, bitter court battles, and almost ruined my third union with the woman who was and is my soul mate.

• I severed all ties with my father over our dispute about my place in the family business, a schism that sent me on week-long drunken binges in squalid flop houses.

• I suffered the terrors of clinical depression, crippling arthritis, and heart disease.

Eventually I came to see these adversities for what they were: blessings in disguise that I learned to leverage to make me a stronger, wiser, more loving, and more creative human being.

Today, I am a recovering alcoholic. I am the proud father of three children, grown into happy, productive adults. I'm deeply in love with my wife, and I'm happy to say that I reconciled with my father before his death. I also conquered both my depression and my arthritis, and my body now shows no physical evidence of heart disease.

In addition, I've been able to build a multimillion-dollar manufacturing company that provided me with the means to be a major philanthropist, endowing hospitals, universities, and charities that offer valuable help to thousands of people.

I tell you this not to brag, but to make the point that I had sunk as low as I thought one could go. Then things turned around for me.

So how did I manage to bounce back from a hellish pit of adversity when my younger brothers, David and Dick, experiencing many of the same tribulations, were unable to tame their addictions and succumbed far too early to their physical illnesses? Why am I now here, writing about mastering the power of adversity, when David literally drank himself to death in a lonely apartment? (I can see him now as I saw him on his last days, sprawled in the dark in his oversized chair, drinking endless Seagram's Sevens, smoke from his pipe swirling about his head as he vainly attempted to soothe his torments by listening to Strauss waltzes.)

These questions both tormented and fascinated me. I forced myself to look inward, observing myself, trying to pinpoint what had allowed me to persevere and succeed. I quizzed myself: What was I doing now in my life that I wasn't doing when adversity was threatening to overwhelm me? How had I changed?

My introspection provided me with a sudden illumination. I realized that I had at some point recognized serious adversity for what it is: the natural order of life. Adversity is meant to act like a grain of sand inside an oyster; it is the irritant in our lives that can stimulate us to create pearls. In short, I came to understand the power of adversity and some of the lessons it can teach us, starting with the all-important truth in this chapter's title:

We are not meant, in the grand scheme of life, to be happy and comfortable. Rather, we are meant to forge our characters on the anvil of adversity.

Since then, I've been formulating the premises of this book. I've come to believe most of us experience monumental periods of adversity—perfectly timed and honed—to burn away our self-deception. These devastating setbacks propel us in our quest to become fully and creatively human. Sometimes we get stuck, so stuck, in fact, that only great pain will impel us to move. It's then that the power of adversity is revealed. But to see it requires a new way of looking at the world, a radical shifting of perspective.

In this book, I propose that you learn to look at your life, what happens to you, and what you do, in a different way. A lot of what I have to tell you has been cryptically condensed into folk sayings that have come to us down through the ages. Trouble is, we've all heard that stuff so many times we take it for granted or, even worse, dismiss it as nothing but hoary old clichés. For example, how often have you heard the following?

• Think positively.

• Every cloud has a silver lining.

• Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

• You have to learn the hard way.

• Every challenge is an opportunity.

The invaluable secret at the core of these folk wisdoms is that our lives are journeys of transformation, and each time the catalyst for change is painful circumstances. We can't grow as human beings without seeing ourselves—and our relationships to others—through the unique and challenging lens of adversity.

Most of us at some level know this deep inside ourselves. We value this truth in our entertainments, for instance. We thrill to novels, movies, TV shows, and plays in which characters face confrontation, often just another word for adversity. From Gone with the Wind to Star Wars, we feel the emotional charge, empathy, and truth when we watch initially shallow individuals who, facing adversity, must rise to the occasion (often at great personal cost), and come through their ordeal having learned lessons that make them stronger, kinder, wiser—better—than before.

In our own lives, however, many of us do not rise to these challenges of adversity. Instead, we accept these failings, telling ourselves we deserved them or there's nothing we can do about them. But this is a huge mistake. More to the point, it is a terrible and tragic waste not to seize adversity to use to your advantage.

Adversity taught me that my seemingly most terrible moments—from professional catastrophes to the soul-shattering experience of losing a child—were actually only part of a lifelong process of maturing. I am today convinced that I was being prepared by adversity to do what was necessary to become healthy, loving, and loved.

I don't mean to suggest that I at the time welcomed such adversity, or that my life is now perfect. Nobody wants trouble, and nobody has a perfect life. But thanks to adversity, I now have a different way of looking at life, which has revitalized me to the point that at eighty plus years, I'm as active as many individuals half my age. Again, I'm not bragging, simply stating a fact.

My vigor does not stem from luck or heredity. As I have already said, my father was a periodic alcoholic. I was an alcoholic and am now, through AA, a recovering alcoholic. My father and my brother David died of cancer. My youngest brother, Dick, died of heart disease and alcoholism. I've battled physical and mental illnesses: alcoholism, crippling arthritis, heart disease, and clinical depression.

So what enabled me to recover? Adversity, which always brings with it the benefit of learning the hard way (to quote one of those old folk sayings). To tell the truth, I can't learn any other way. It was pure pain followed by hard learning that drove me away from my father and out on my own, keeping my nose to the grindstone in dead-end jobs. It was pure pain followed by hard learning that forced me to endure two miserable marriages before finding the love of my life. And, ultimately, if not for the hard learning bought and paid for by my excruciating arthritis, I might never have made it through my later, terrifying battle with heart disease.

As I look back, I now see that suffering, pain, and the threat of death were the only hard lessons strong enough to break through the thickness of my hard head. Like most, I used to think that disease, depression, and rejection were all life's enemies, and in a real and terrible sense that is true. Adversity is a double-edged sword that can crush the life and soul right out of a person. Yet, when you approach adversity humbly and creatively, it can set off a powerful and transforming chain reaction.

To put it another way: every challenge is an opportunity—the last folk saying I listed above—for us to grow. This is the incredible power of adversity, and it can be harnessed by each of us. I did it. You can do it, too.

This book provides helpful and pragmatic information on harnessing the power of adversity for yourself. I'll share exercises, tips, and advice that you can use to make adversity work for you instead of against you.

First, a caveat. This is not a book about God. In these pages I take no position on whether we are destined to suffer in some divine sense, whether such suffering and subsequent potential redemption is God's will, whether we are meant to endure terrible adversity on Earth as the dues we pay for a blissful afterlife, and so on.

My approach to the question of why adversity exists is entirely pragmatic. This is a self-help book. Remember my example about the grain of sand inside the oyster that turns into a pearl? That's scientific fact, not metaphor. It's my contention that, just like that grain of sand is used by the oyster, we can use adversity as a catalyst for creating something good—if we know how. To that end, I've devised a list of rules one can use to help put adversity to work:

The Rules for Mastering Adversity

1. We're not meant to be happy ... we're meant to grow.

2. Positive thinking is imperative.

3. You are not at the center of the universe.

4. Instead of "Why me? ... Why not me?"

5. It is luckier to earn than to receive.

6. Be self-ish and put yourself first, by putting yourself last.

7. Never think "I have to do it." Instead, think "I have it to do."

8. I suffer passes ... I suffered never passes ... A blade remains tempered long after the fire that scorched it has faded away.

9. Cultivate the seven self-ish virtues of modesty, gratitude, courtesy, selfcontrol, compassion, perseverance, and indomitable spirit to conquer your adversity.

10. Adversity creates walls ... When you tear down those walls you create spectacular vistas of self-potential.

11. Leverage sweat equity built up by surviving previous trouble to help master current adversity.

12. Adversity always grants a chance to creatively resolve the problem.

13. Running away never helps.

14. Overcoming adversity requires the right attitude ... meditation ... communication ... and sharing.

15. Have the right idea about money. Success isn't just possessions and power.

16. Practice responsibility, loyalty, consideration—the magic formula that is the secret to life.

17. Always get the facts ... real facts, not the imagined ones.

18. Treat time as your most valuable resource.

19. Get perspective through acts of charity to others.

20. Adversity provides the only real opportunity to make an incredible difference in your life and in the world.

21. Come to see problem solving as one of the great joys of life.

22. There is always a great idea lurking in adversity ... Will you find it?

As I expand on these rules in the pages to follow, I hope to inform and inspire you to see what's possible when you move through adversity to a greater understanding of life and its goodness.

Facing adversity is never easy. I'll do my best not to minimize the sheer terror and difficulty associated with suffering as I offer ways to use adversity to better ourselves and the world we share. I invite you to share my experiences, thoughts, hopes, and lessons, so you can move closer to the mystery, wonder, and power of life, by transforming your adversity into a force for positive change.


If I'm at the Center of the Universe ... Where Are You?

Once the game is over, the king and the pawn go back into the same box.


In 1983, twelve years after starting my own company, two momentous things altered my life: an invention and an affliction. The invention produced a patent and fantastic sales growth. The affliction was a chronic disease that would leave me crippled and suffering, facing long odds for a comeback.

The invention convinced me I was at the center of the universe.

The affliction proved to me I was not.

The Invention

In 1971, with heavy financing and a tiny amount of cash, I purchased a small, two-customer plastics company in Twinsburg, Ohio. A new start, a new company, a new name: Weatherchem Corporation. We were on a roll; sales had leaped by tenfold and employment had trebled. It was substantial incremental growth, but it was not the success I had been counting on and dreaming of my entire life. What was slowing Weatherchem down? My company lacked revenue-generating patents.

Thomas Edison, the King of Invention, held more than eleven hundred patents. Growing up, I had made it my goal to have more patents than my father, who, through his company, acquired nearly seven hundred of them. (So far, I've not been able to surpass my father's record.) Yet, in 1983, it took just one patentable invention to launch my company into the stratosphere.


Excerpted from THE POWER OF ADVERSITY by AL WEATHERHEAD, FRED FELDMAN. Copyright © 2008 Al Weatherhead, with Fred Feldman. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Foreword   Lance Gould, MD     xi
Acknowledgments     xv
We're Not Meant to Be Happy ... We're Meant to Grow     1
If I'm at the Center of the Universe ... Where Are You?     15
Don't Ask "Why Me?" Instead, Ask "Why Not Me?"     33
I Suffer Passes ... I Suffered Never Passes     51
Adversity Builds Walls for You to Tear Down     63
Running Away Never Helps     73
Four Techniques to Help You Harness the Power of Adversity     85
Five Tips to Help You Put Adversity in Perspective     97
Problem Solving Is One of the Great Joys in Life     123
There Is Always a Great Idea Lurking in Adversity ... Will You Find It?     137
Afterword     145
Adversity Check List     147
Adversity Work Sheet     153
Endnotes     161
Index     163

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