The Surprising Advantages of Adversity - And How To Face It

In 1994, George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, realized something profound. Special effects technology was now at a point where he could finally create his vision for what he always wanted Star Wars to be!

The first trilogy of Star Wars films – A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi – were 3 of the most famous movies in history. They had pushed the boundaries of special effects technology and created an imaginative, far away world that people loved.

Despite their popularity, however, Lucas was never satisfied with them. The technology of the time just was not good enough to create the “galaxy far, far away” that he had always envisioned. In the mid-90s, however, it was a different story. He saw that the time had come where he could create the first 3 chapters of the Star Wars saga the way he always wanted them. [1]

So he got to work – this time doing it his way. Lucas had accumulated enough wealth at this point where he could control the entire movie: writing, producing, directing, everything. He did not have to deal with studio executives pressuring him, producers challenging him, or other creative people editing his work. This time, it was all up to him.

And the result was….terrible. The scripts of the 3 Star Wars prequels were filled with plot holes, the characters were dull, and despite all of their amazing visual effects, you will find few Star Wars fans that prefer the prequels over the originals. [2


We love the easy path. It is fun doing things that we are already good at! It gives us confidence and makes us feel better about our abilities. Plus, we do not have to confront our own vulnerabilities and weaknesses.

This is why we avoid adversity whenever we can. Facing adversity isn’t fun. It puts us outside of our comfort zone and exposes our weaknesses. It makes us look bad in front of people that we want to admire us. So, to avoid this pain, our primitive brain will motivate us to take the easy path at all costs. [3

This mindset only gets stronger as we age. The older we get, the more we feel that we should “have everything figured out”. So we stop seeking out challenges, we stop trying to learn new things and we stop seeking other people’s feedback. This may make us feel better in the short-term, but it will ultimately set us up for failure.


The first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, had to be good. Lucas already had the vision of creating a trilogy, so he had to make it good enough that the studio would follow it with The Empire Strikes Back. This put enormous pressure on Lucas to ensure that every detail of A New Hope was done extremely well. He spent countless hours working with brilliant people to ensure the movie would dazzle audiences. [4]

By the time the prequels came out, however, it did not matter. The movie could be good or bad and it was still going be a box office hit. Star Wars was so popular by the time The Phantom Menace came out that Lucas did not need to pour over every detail to ensure it was perfect.  

People have an extraordinary ability to rise to a challenge. Even if it looks like all is hopeless – as it did for Lucas when making A New Hope – we can summon the willpower to do the extraordinary. This is why underdog sport teams are able to beat their more talented opponents, and why rags to riches stories are so prominent in our society. 

When we expose ourselves to adversity on a consistent basis, we see 3 key benefits:


We naturally want to take the easy path and avoid adversity wherever possible. So it takes willpower to push us to take on challenges and put ourselves in uncomfortable situations.  

Our willpower acts like a muscle. The more that we put ourselves in situations where we face adversity, the stronger our willpower becomes. Just like the more time we spend in the gym, the stronger our muscles become. If you can fight against your natural tendency to take the easy path today, you will have a stronger willpower tomorrow. [5]


In his book, Talent is Overrated, author Jeff Colvin identifies how the world’s top performers in music, sports and business made their way to the top. He found that those who were able to become world-class in their field practiced for thousands of hours in what he calls “the learning zone”. [6]

The learning zone is when you are challenging yourself just beyond your current abilities. If you do not challenge yourself enough, then you will not improve. If you challenge yourself too much, then things will be too hectic to make any sustainable improvements. So you must take on challenges with just enough adversity that you are forced to learn and grow, but not so much that the task is impossible.


If we do not face adversity, we will never know what we can accomplish in life. If Lucas had said from the beginning that he will only do Star Wars if he has complete control over the movie, it would have never been made. He had to face that adversity in the beginning in order to make his mark on the world.  

What Lucas will always be remembered for is what he did with the little material that he had. He had a limited budget, limited special effects technology and limited faith from those around him that Star Wars would be a success. But he was able to overcome all of those obstacles and make a movie that will be passed on from generation to generation.

If we are unwilling to face these challenges then we will never be able to create our own greatness. We will never know what we would be able to accomplish if we were willing to be vulnerable to failure.  


Taking on adversity is easier said than done. If we do not approach adversity in the right way, we will feel overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious about our abilities. When it comes time for us to rise to the challenge, a voice inside of us will give us every excuse in the book to back down. 

The reason this happens is because we have an innate fear of the unknown. To our ancestors, venturing into the unknown could be the difference between life and death. So our brains evolved to prevent us from making ourselves vulnerable. [3]

To overcome this fear, we must break up the challenge into small, manageable chunks. By shifting our focus from the overwhelming challenge to simply what we need to do next, we reframe our brain’s perspective and make the whole thing less scary. This will lower the stress and anxiety produced by your brain, which will give you more confidence to take on adversity. [7]

Running a marathon may be completely overwhelming, but can you run 5 kilometers?

Reaching a sales goal may be completely overwhelming, but can you prospect 10 people?

Completely cutting out processed foods may be completely overwhelming, but can you cut them out for breakfast?

This is a simple technique, but it is extremely effective. The stress, anxiety and fear of taking on adversity comes from being overwhelmed and afraid of the unknown. So if we can make each step simple and manageable, we will have more confidence and willpower to take it on.

The next time you face adversity, don’t think about what you need to do, think about what you need to do next.


Dealing with adversity is frightening. It can make us vulnerable, expose our weaknesses and set us up for failure. But even more frightening is what happens when we choose to avoid adversity. Without adversity we cannot learn, we cannot grow and we cannot find out what our true limitations are. Then when we look back on our lives, we will always wonder “what if?” 

Choosing to rise to the challenge of adversity is not easy, but it can be done. If you break up the huge challenge that you are taking on into small, manageable chunks, you will find the process less overwhelming. You will gain confidence with each step you take towards your goal. Then, eventually, you may just make your own masterpiece.


  1. How George Lucas Decided To Make The STAR WARS Prequels [Interview]. (2009, 11).
  2. Bedford, S. (2009). 15 Reasons Why STAR WARS Prequels Sucked.
  3. Wise, R. (2002). Brain Reward Circuitry. Neuron 36.2: 229-40
  4. George Lucas On How STAR WARS Got Made. (2009, October 30).
  5. Muraven, M., Baumeister, R., & Tice, D. (1999). Longitudinal Improvement of Self-Regulation Through Practice: Building Self-Control Strength Through Repeated Exercise. The Journal of Social Psychology, 446-457.
  6. Colvin, G. (2008). Talent is overrated: What really separates world-class performers from everybody else. New York: Portfolio.
  7. Bandura, A., & Schunk, D. (n.d.). Cultivating Competence, Self-efficacy, And Intrinsic Interest Through Proximal Self-motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 586-598.