You know that saying, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger? I think there’s something to that, rather, I know it.
Over the years I’ve become increasingly more interested in how to turn our adversities — our saddest realities and our most suffered-over pasts — into something that is good and enriching to our lives. I’ve subscribed to the belief that everything happens for a reason, so I strive to understand why painful things must happen.
Upon thinking about this, I have discerned three actionable steps to transforming adversity I think we can all use: charity, change, and compassion.
When I was 22, I decided to start a charitable initiative called Voices of Fashion (formerly known as Project Model Tee), to give my fellow models and friends in fashion a platform to show their art while connecting to meaningful causes.
One of the big perks of the job was that I got to decide the causes that our group supported. With a history of sexual abuse and mental health problems in my family, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network and National Alliance on Mental Illness became the highlighted organizations of the past years. I had never intended to use these very personal tragedies to encourage my charity work, but as I created my organization, it just made sense.
Then, in the midst of the actual charity work, I started to recognize my unfortunate experience with sexual abuse and severe mental illness to be less unfortunate. It’s not that I would have ever wished adversity onto myself or anyone else, but I was able to shift these events into reasons to give back to my community, which in turn vastly expanded my life, and for that I am grateful.
By being involved with nonprofits focused on bettering issues I’ve dealt with, I have been able to make new friends, obtain advocacy training, and receive invitations to beautiful galas and events. Mostly though, it has empowered me, giving me strength to let my truth shine. Active involvement with the philanthropy world has also given me a sense of deep purpose, giving meaning to the painful parts of my life. I no longer feel helpless when thinking about my personal sufferings, because my help is needed in the community, which turns my adversity into goodness.
When you’ve watched family member after family member battle addiction to drugs, alcohol, and a foul mouth, you’ve certainly faced an injustice. Growing up in volatile environments can be very traumatic and create the risk and likelihood that these traits will be passed on to the still innocent.
Not that it’s easy, but facing this trauma can create an opportunity for change. Observe the things you do not value in your lineage and take the steps to do it differently. Perhaps your parents call each other names when they fight. It may not be easy, but create boundaries in which it will not be acceptable for your partners to do the same to you. Was the adversity you faced growing up with an alcoholic mom or dad? Take that as reason to abstain from excessive drinking.
When something makes us angry or sad, those feelings are our indications that a boundary needs to be made. Use your hurt spots to create the changes that will lead to a legacy of love.
When we’re finally too tired to attend another charity walk or haven’t totally beat our acquired addictions, there is still space to turn our adversity into something meaningful.
Consider turning your struggle into pure compassion — compassion for yourself and compassion for others. Difficulties can be used to soften your heart and judgments toward others. At times when others seem rude or distant, rather than being annoyed or upset by it, perhaps it is worth reminding ourselves that we do not know what’s going on with others. Remembering the loneliness and dark times we’ve endured in our own lives can help us understand and deal with difficult people. Experiencing hardship can also turn us into more relatable friends, family members, colleagues, and acquaintances. Vulnerability might seem scary, but it’s worth it because you’ll find yourself connecting more deeply with others because of a shared struggle. Authenticity is vital, and the facade has to be dropped.
As I have become increasingly more open about my life, others have come forth with stories of their own experience with sexual abuse or mental health concerns. Creating spaces in which we can sympathize and empathize with each other evaporates the loneliness that too many people are feeling and brings forth compassion and connectedness.
Unfortunately, we do not yet live in a perfect world of peace, but in shifting perceptions surrounding adversity and in transmuting your adversity, you play your part in getting us a little closer to the peace and at the same time, find the peace within.
Transforming Adversity: The Three Cs was written by Edythe Hughes.
Edythe lives and works in New York City as a fashion model and founder of Voices of Fashion, a nonprofit that helps models and friends in fashion connect to meaningful causes.
She is passionate about community building and spends her free time serving on the Young Professional Advisory Board of New York City and leading Girl Scout Troop #3132 in New York City’s financial district.
Photo Credit (top): Keiichiro Nakajima