Seneca Tells Us That Adversity Enhances Your Performance

posted on: November 7, 2019
author: Anthony Pellegrino

A Man Crumbling Under Adversity

Photo by mwangi gatheca on Unsplash

Stoicism has blown up in recent years.  

All eyes seem to be on Stoicism and the ancient thinkers who developed it.

Do you ever wonder why that is?

Well, there’s actually a really simple reason.

It’s because times are tough nowadays. Many people are facing down daily adversity.

The whole world appears to be rather tumultuous. Everything just seems so crazy, whether it be our politics, our economies, or our climate. 

There’s plenty of radical change, conflict, and challenge to go around, and history has shown us that it’s in periods like this, times of tumult, that Stoicism becomes very attractive for people.

Stoicism emerged in a rather dangerous and politically unstable time. It emerged out of the Hellenistic period, the time after Alexander the Great’s death until the emergence of the Roman Empire.

This was a remarkably crazy time to be alive. People constantly faced some sort of threat outside their control. Their lands, their lives, and their property were potentially at the mercy of violent criminals, megalomaniac warlords, or large scale political strife.

It was a time when people did a whole lot of thinking about adversity, pain, struggle, and misfortune.

If you’ve read our other articles about Stoicism in sport, you’re probably already putting the pieces together.

Such an unstable and dangerous period was fertile soil for a philosophy like Stoicism to emerge, with its emphasis on controlling your reactions towards negative events outside your control.

It was also an attractive philosophy for those facing down the daily grind because it emphasized a simple fact that we’ve talked about before: adversity makes us better

Stoicism teaches us that hardship and calamity, while undeniably painful, is actually good for us. It makes us tougher and builds up our character.

Ancient Monument from the Hellenistic Period

Photo by Joshua Rodriguez on Unsplash

The more we persevere under adversity, the stronger we shall become. 

This idea is also called “antifragility,” or the increase in capacity to thrive due to stress, volatility, attacks, and adversity.

If we become “antifragile” then we will thrive in times of stress or uncertainty, and this will translate into remarkably enhanced performance in a competitive context.

Instead of crumbling under the pressure of the game, we’ll thrive under it.

Do you have problems facing down adversity in your competitive performances? Click here to check out our pX Training System to unlock your greatest potential.

While we may run from challenges and obstacles these are the only things that will make us develop as competitors.

Seneca the Younger, a Stoic philosopher living in the early days of the Roman Empire, had a lot to say about adversity. 

He was full of philosophical gems like: 

  • “Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men.”
  • “Constant misfortune brings this one blessing: to whom it always assails, it eventually fortifies.”
  • “I judge you unfortunate because you have never lived through misfortune. You have passed through life without an opponent— no one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”

Seneca, like most of the Stoic philosophers, faced significant adversity in his life. As a Roman senator, he was ordered to commit suicide by Caligula, only to be saved by severe illness that was supposed to kill him anyway. He survived, only to be exiled by the next emperor, Claudius. 

Eventually, he was able to return to Rome as a tutor to the absolutely insane Emperor, Nero, only to again be forced into suicide following an attempt on Nero’s life. The Praetorian guard accused him of being involved, and this time there was no illness to grant him clemency. He killed himself in 65 AD.

Seneca faced adversity till the very end, but he never relented

Photo by Ian Noble on Unsplash

The guy obviously had it rough, but as he said, “No tree becomes rooted and sturdy unless many a wind assails it.”

Adversity is good for us, not only in life but in performance too. 

Part of us might wish the challenges along the way were easier. Bitter rivalries and insurmountable obstacles might be infuriating, but they also make us perform at our very best.

Do you think Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal could have the careers they did without one another? 

Sure, maybe Roger could have won more Grand Slams if Rafa wasn’t in the picture or vice versa.

Or could they have? 

Honestly, probably not. The mutual adversity that the two produced for one another was crucial to their growth as competitors. Without it, what would push them to get better every day?

Photo by Chad Greiter on Unsplash

The same is true for you, too.

Any competitive career is paved upon a path of adversity, struggle, and failure. This is the case no matter who you are.

Seneca reminds us that we must never allow ourselves to run away from the challenges that come with competition. We must never let failure discourage us from moving forward.

Instead, we must embrace it. We should go and seek it out; push ourselves as hard as we can until we fail

The pain that comes with adversity will always be there, but Stoicism teaches us that if we don’t run away from hardship we’ll become “antifragile.” Instead of being crushed by the challenge, we shall thrive under it.

Overcoming the obstacles in our competitive career will become easier and easier, and we’ll grow and develop in ways we never dreamed possible.

If you need some help along the way, check out our online course:

The Great Competitor Formula

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About the Author

Anthony Pellegrino is a freelance journalist, writer, and content marketing strategist. He is currently studying to get his B.A. in Philosophy at Fort Hays State University. He works as contributor to Pulse Magazine and as a freelance content creator for several marketing agencies and brands. His writing is focused on philosophy of mind, metaphysics, politics, everyday life, and content marketing.

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