In life, things happen to us, but what truly matters is what happens within us.

I recently sat down with the University of Minnesota head football coach P.J. Fleck. I asked Fleck what he looks for in recruits. He said he wants kids who have faced adversity and gone through a lot in their young lives.

Likewise, legendary college football coach and my longtime friend Lou Holtz said: "Show me someone who has done something worthwhile and I'll show you someone who has overcome adversity."

I have never yet met a successful person who hasn't had to overcome either a little or a lot of adversity in his or her life. I want people who can accomplish their goals. I want people who are tougher, better, smarter, harder-working and more able than the competition. If people believe in themselves, there's hardly anything that they can't accomplish.

When asked the secret of his success, retail magnate J.C. Penney replied, "Adversity. I would never have amounted to anything had I not been forced to come up the hard way."

Everyone faces adversity, pain, loss and suffering in life. When you go through those periods, it's hard to remember that the emotions you're feeling are only temporary. The best thing to do is to develop a plan for what you will do when these times hit and find your way to the silver lining — the place where you can feel hopeful again.

First, examine whether you have a personal sense of commitment in life, a feeling of control over life, an ability to let go when appropriate, a strong personal support system and strong values. Without these attributes, even small stumbling blocks can magnify everything to the point of inducing failure.

Keep in mind, there are plenty of things you can't control. But you do have control over some significant areas that will minimize the adversity you encounter, such as your treatment of others, the way you spend your time outside of work, your self-image, when and how to share your feelings and how to let others know you're stressed.

I'm often asked how I deal with adversity. The first thing I do is to stay focused on the task at hand.

Second is to break things down. What is important? Try not to get overwhelmed when facing adversity and setbacks.

Third, take whatever immediate action is necessary, but if you have the luxury of time, sleep on it.

And finally, it's always good to have mentors or a trusty "kitchen cabinet" to be your sounding board.

A playful story is told of a man walking home from work in the dark of night. Not noticing a large hole in the street, he fell in. Every effort to escape was futile, so he leaned back in the corner and fell asleep.

A short time later another walker found himself quickly descending to the bottom of the hole. He, too, struggled and strained to find a way out. Exhausted, he was about to sit down and wait for the morning light when he heard a voice in the darkness say, "Forget it, fella. You can't get out." In a split second he was out!

Isn't it amazing how all of a sudden the man was able to jump a little higher, put forth a little more effort, climb a little farther to escape his predicament? The "voice in the night" provided just the motivation he needed.

Mackay's Moral: Turn adversity to advantage with the right attitude.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail