“Of all the virtues, we can learn, no trait is more useful, more essential for survival and more likely to improve the quality of life than the ability to transform adversity into an enjoyable challenge.” Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly

Last month, I talked about the power of resiliency—of being able to bend without breaking (you can check out more by clicking here). To be resilient is to look adversity in the eye, clear your mind and to rely on a degree of mindfulness and conviction to soldier through. It says easy, but it does hard and, as a result, so many of us get hijacked in challenging moments and focus too much on the obstacle at hand, rather than finding a way through. Let’s dig deeper…

Three Archetypes to Combat Adversity

In many ways, the cousin to resilience is adversity. After all, if there is no adversity, you don’t have to be resilient. But since we know life is full of adversity, we have to understand how to deal with it and in a way that allows us to bounce back and derive newfound strength.

Adversity can come in many forms—in the outlandish moments that are without question harrowing and inconceivable but also in a subtler fashion that tries us all the same. But resilient people understand the importance of viewing setback and complication as opportunity in disguise. They see these moments as a time to grow and evolve.

Experience and research has shown there are three archetypes for how people generally deal with adversity:

  • Climbers: These are individuals who have a tremendous capacity for change. They have a high degree of grit and resilience. They are typically the first to get on board with change and immediately focus on finding a solution instead of fixating on the problem. Climbers see adversity and change as growth opportunities and embrace the coming challenges.
  • Campers: Folks of this mindset have some capacity to welcome change, but they are also distracted by the part of their brain that feels they are headed towards crisis. So, they choose to do nothing. Instead, they become the leaf on the water—going with the flow but also not taking steps forward towards resiliency. They may let the challenge or adversity beat them down, fixating on the wrong facets of change.
  • Captives: These are the people who run way from accepting the reality of the circumstance and immediately become the victim. They see change as an indictment against them and allow adversity to stay longer than it should. They become trapped in their circumstances unable to free themselves from the adversity that they face. And like a drowning person, they grab hold of those around them trying to anchor them to their adversity.

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Like many things in life, how you deal with adversity is your personal choice. You can actively choose to be a climber or, by default of action, you can be a captive. Your mindset and adversity archetype is situational but it is not fixed; it can change and evolve.

I remember having to take a Western Civilization class in college. On the first day of class, I sat in my seat—a captive. I wanted to be anywhere else. But over the days and weeks that followed I became a climber, racing through the complete works of Voltaire, Dante, Wilde, Chekkov, Steinbeck and much more. Likewise, just because you are a climber at work doesn’t mean you will necessarily be one at home. These archetypes are fluid and can manifest themselves depending on the situation. But, resilient people recognize the power of the mind and how the right mindset can help you jump to the required archetype.

Where Will You Fall?

It’s important to understand how our decisions, approaches and beliefs about adversity dictate whether we become the climber, camper or captive. If you are aware of the following, you can guide yourself to the archetype you desire:


How much control do you perceive that you have over an adverse event or situation? People who are climbers are able to shake off feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and find strength in being empowered versus despaired. Consider the story of Malvika Iyer. At 13, a freak accident caused her to lose both her hands and severely damaged her legs, raising serious doubts about whether she would ever walk again. She chose not to focus on the loss of her hands but on how live without her hands. A young Malvika became a climber. She braved the odds and emerged victorious. Today she is a dedicated social worker, a motivational speaker and model for accessible clothing in India.


Captives and campers have a tendency to place blame when adversity presents. They seek comfort in the victim mentality, casting blame to those around them versus facing the brutal facts. On the other hand, climbers understand the importance in asking the question: What is the actual origin of the adversity? And, to what degree do I own the outcomes of the adversity? Instead of placing blame, they consider the role they play in the circumstance.

Carol Dweck, one of the world’s leading researchers in the field of motivation, talks about the notion of a fixed versus growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset take failure personally and are quick to defend their actions. Conversely, those with a growth mindset see adversity and change as an opportunity to learn and look for the role they play in shaping and affecting change.


When we face an obstacle, the conflict can have a ripple effect into other areas of our lives. For many, a bad day at work—being chastised by your boss, unsuccessfully completing a project on time, having a conflict with a co-worker, etc.—will permeate into one’s personal life. Many times campers and captives feel adversity is pervasive, all-consuming and incredibly overwhelming, bleeding into all aspects of their life.

Instead, climbers recognize that limitation can be placed around adversity. They can actively compartmentalize and chip away at a challenge, without letting it impact every facet of their life. They are the people who can be having great strife in their personal relationship but come to work with a smile on their face, appropriately leaving personal strain at the door when they walk through the office.

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In the face of great challenge, the adversity can feel unending. It can be mascaraed as a permanent conflict, causing many to assume the archetype of the captive or the camper. Climbers, however, understand that adversity is temporary and that they can endure anything.

They have the ability to recognize that we have the ability to conquer anything—sometimes we just have to do it 10-seconds, or one step, or even one breath at a time. Tackling something 10-seconds at a time—or pausing for a few seconds to regain composure—allows us to see differently and glean the perspective needed to tackle the challenge. (I will be talking more about the power of the 10-second mentality and creating winnable moments in my next blog—stay tuned!)

Continuing the Conversation

On May 19, I took center stage at the Rhode Island Convention Center for our seventh annual AlwaysOn Leadership Symposium to talk about this very important topic of resilience and facing adversity. I explored what it means to be resilient; talked about the three archetypes; and discussed the importance of the 10-second pause. For highlights of the event, click here.

I want to hear from you! What archetype do you identify with most? You can let me know in the comments below or by reaching out at thebert@carouselindustries.com.