Whether you're struggling from a situational, developmental, or existential crisis, often the last piece of advice you want to hear is "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." After checking out these Stoic quotes on adversity, though, you might feel a bit more convinced about the truth of that maxim.
Difficulties in life can serve as events that trigger personal growth if you don't let them defeat you.
They can also make you more resilient, more empathetic, and and more appreciative of the good things in life.
Thousands of years before modern researchers took on the question of "post-traumatic growth," the ancient Stoics were well-aware of the gold hidden inside our misfortunes.
We tend to think of adversity as a bad thing, but it can actually be the greatest gift life can give us.
"For we are naturally disposed to admire more than anything else the man who shows fortitude in adversity." – Seneca
Who do you look up to? Is it the rich kid who has never worked for anything in his life, or the person who has overcome great obstacles with courage? If you want to be a person that is admired, the path is likely paved with adversity.
"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
From the standpoint that adversity is actually a gift, never experiencing it is the real tragedy.
“There is no education like adversity.” – Benjamin Disraeli
Do you want to know yourself? Do you want to become the best person you can be? Adversity will show you the way.
“Sometimes adversity is what you need to face in order to become successful.” – Zig Ziglar
Consider picking up some biographies of some successful people you admire, and you'll find that they experienced many trials along the way.
“Every negative event contains within it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” – Napoleon Hill
Is it possible to be aware of the seed inside every obstacle and difficulty you face, no matter how horrible it seems at the time? If you can manage this, it could completely transform who you are and what your life consists of.
“Sweet are the uses of adversity which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head.” – William Shakespeare
To fully understand the point Shakespeare is making here, you'll want to briefly jump down the rabbit hole of toad stones. In short, though, a widely held belief through much of history was that toads held a jewel in their head that served as the antidote to the frog's poison.
Adversity, though it can be toxic if you let it, hides a treasure inside that is its own cure.
“The worst thing that happens to you may be the best thing for you if you don't let it get the best of you.” – Will Rogers
You probably understand this from personal experience. Think back on a difficult experience you've had that you have learned from. If you can put yourself back in the headspace, it probably seemed like the worst possible thing that could ever happen. However, in reality, there was much wisdom to be gained from your trouble.
The fact that you're reading an article full of Stoic quotes indicates that you probably have an interest in personal growth. While there are certainly opportunities to grow in good times, sometimes the hard times offer the most fertile soil.
"Misfortune is virtue's opportunity." – Seneca
To the Stoics, a virtuous life is a good life. The idea is that when you face a situation with virtue, all of the best things in life will follow. According to this line of thinking, success, happiness, meaning, love, honor, and more, are waiting on the other side of adversity if you walk the path of virtuous action.
"Just as nature takes every obstacle, every impediment, and works around it—turns it to its purposes, incorporates it into itself—so, too, a rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal." – Marcus Aurelius
What is a hammer? Depending on how you look at it, it's a tool that you can use to build a shed or to destroy one.
Difficult times are just the same. If you can look at your adversity as an opportunity for growth, you can actually use it in order to get where you're trying to go.
"The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way." – Marcus Aurelius
What you initially see as an obstacle might actually be a new door emerging.
If you're new to the world of Stoicism, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius can be a great starting point. Check out our giant list of Marcus Aurelius quotes here.
"A blazing fire makes flame and brightness out of everything that is thrown into it." – Marcus Aurelius
Can you see the potential in even the worst situation? Can you step back and see where your control lies and use it to see the beauty and meaning in your experience?
"A setback has often cleared the way for greater prosperity. Many things have fallen only to rise to more exalted heights." – Seneca
If you fall down in life, that's not the end of the story unless you let it be. Your troubles might be the exact ingredients you need to become truly successful.
“A wounded deer leaps the highest.” – Emily Dickinson
Have you ever known someone that seems to have had every possible bad thing happen to them? You know, that guy who is paralyzed from the waist down who lost both of his parents on Christmas day? How is it that he seems happier and more well-adjusted than everyone else you know?
Sometimes people that have been wounded the most by life end up becoming incredibly virtuous and hyper-conscious of the meaning and beauty in life.
“The art of living lies less in eliminating our troubles than in growing with them.” – Bernard Baruch
If you're hustling to get to a point in life where you don't have any troubles anymore, you might be heading in the wrong direction. Bad things can happen to even the most affluent and successful people. You are never fully safe from difficulty in life.
What you can do is learn to grow with adversity. You'll find that with each experience, you are stronger, wiser, and better able to deal with whatever the universe decides to dish out to you next.
“Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents which, in prosperous circumstances, would have lain dormant.” – Horace
Our culture loves the idea of savants– people who have an incredible talent from birth. While we all have some natural strengths, that isn't usually enough to launch us to incredible success. Typically, people develop strengths through practice and dedication over time in order to become great.
However, a comfortable life might mean that you have the seeds of talents within you without ever realizing it. You know exactly what Horace means here if you've ever been in trouble and ended up acting in a way you didn't even know you were capable of.
“Adversity is the first path to truth.” – Lord Byron
It's easy to fool yourself with times are easy. When things get rough, you don't have the luxury to pretend something is true when it isn't or vice versa. If you value the truth, you might also consider valuing adversity.
“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” – Thomas Paine
The more difficult the trouble you face, the more triumphant you can feel when you overcome it.
“Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.” – William Shakespeare
Good idea, Mr. Shakespeare. Adversity might seem sour, indeed, but the wise men know what they're talking about when they advise you to embrace it.
Who are you, really? Sadly, it's a little too easy these days to waltz through life with a thoroughly curated persona. The longer you go through life without trying to get to know your true self, the messier it will be when it's exposed in the face of a disaster.
“The true man is revealed in difficult times. So when trouble comes, think of yourself as a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck. For what purpose? To turn you into Olympic-class material.” – Epictetus
Instead of seeing yourself as the victim in the face ofi adversity, consider seeing yourself as a worthy adversary. The challenge isn't there to destroy you, it's there to test you and make you stronger.
“What would have become of Hercules, do you think, if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar – and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of such challenges? Obviously he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules.” – Epictetus
As much as it sounds nice to inherit millions of dollars and dissolve yourself into a life of luxury, you'd probably be pretty disturbed to find out who you turned out to be by the end of your life. If you want to be a truly great person, you'll have to endure some Herculean feats.
“Every difficulty in life presents us with an opportunity to turn inward and to invoke our own inner resources. The trails we endure can and should introduce us to our strengths. Prudent people look beyond the incident itself and seek to form the habit of putting it to good use. On the occasion of an accidental event, don’t just react in a haphazard fashion: remember to turn inward and ask what resources you have for dealing with it. Dig deeply. You possess strengths you might not realize you have. Find the right one. Use it.” – Epictetus
Want to know what you're really capable of? Embrace adversity and use it as the perfect chance to find the resources that are hidden within yourself.
“Adversity introduces a man to himself.” – Albert Einstein
Do you ever feel like you don't even really know who you are? Obstacles and difficulties will hold a mirror right up to you.
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
It's true. Like Confucius says, "a gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials."
“Only in winter can you tell which trees are truly green. Only when the winds of adversity blow can you tell whether an individual or a country has steadfastness.” – John F. Kennedy
We can all be on our best behavior when things are going our way. Everyone can get along when the fields are bountiful. It's when times get tough that we really learn who we are, who we can trust, and what we're capable of.
One idea that is associated with the ancient Stoics is that of amor fati. Translated by some to mean "love of one's fate," it refers to the idea that everything that happens in one's life is necessary and, therefore, should be appreciated.
Can you learn to love your fate, even when it seems like the whole universe is acting against you?
"To bear trials with a calm mind robs misfortune of its strength and burden." – Seneca
Sometimes, we are the ones who make a situation unbearable by letting it get us all riled up.
"If you are pained by any external thing, it is not this thing that disturbs you, but your own judgment about it. And it is in your power to wipe out this judgment now." – Marcus Aurelius
What current adversity are you facing? How is your mindset impacting the way that the difficulty is affecting you?
"Ask, ‘Why is this so unbearable? Why can’t I endure it?’ You’ll be embarrassed to answer." – Marcus Aurelius
This is a great exercise if you're stuck inside a problem. Sometimes, you have to zoom out and realize the way that your mindset is a huge contributor to your pain.
"To be like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it." – Marcus Aurelius
When trouble is afoot, are you like a dried leaf in the wind? Or are you like a mighty boulder in tumultuous seas?
"People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them." – Epictetus
Can you reduce your suffering by changing your mindset? To the Stoics, the answer is a resounding yes.
“Life is thickly sown with thorns. I know no other remedy than to pass rapidly over them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes the greater is their power to harm us.” – Voltaire
It can be tempting to wallow in our misery, but this only makes our troubles grow. When you face an obstacle, get past it and keep going.
“It is your reaction to adversity, not the adversity itself, that determines how your life’s story will develop.” – Dieter F. Uchtdorf
At the end of your life, what will you look back on? Who will you have been?
Everyone goes through hard times. The thing that really separates the wheat from the chaff is how they react to those hard times.
“If you run into a wall, don't turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it.” – Michael Jordan
One of the habits that has been the hardest for me to break in my life is letting obstacles shut me down. I used to let the tiniest impediment bounce me off of a task for good. It doesn't have to be this way– remember, "what stands in the way becomes the way."
“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill
Does it feel like the world is crumbling around you? That means you haven't gotten to where you want to be yet. Keep going.
“I love those who can smile in trouble.” – Leonardo da Vinci
It's a skill to be able to keep the big picture in mind when you're dealing with difficulty, but it's a true art to be able to maintain lightness in your heart when times are tough.
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” – Haruki Murakami
It's true. There are many things in our lives that we can't control. Things will happen to us that we couldn't have stopped or seen coming.
What can we control, you ask? How we react to things, and that includes responding to pain with suffering.
“In adversity, remember to keep an even mind.” – Horace
Short, simple, and true.
As the saying goes, "Hard times create strong men. Strong men create good times. Good times create weak men. And, weak men create hard times." If you want to be strong, you'll have to overcome challenges.
"Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men." – Seneca
If you want to find out how strong you are, adversity is the best test.
"Constant misfortune brings this one blessing: to whom it always assails, it eventually fortifies." – Seneca
Do you feel like the universe is always against you? If you use these experiences to your advantage, they can make you stronger than you could ever imagine.
"Let us, too, overcome all things, with our reward consisting not in any wreath or garland, not in trumpet-calls for silence for the ceremonial proclamation of our name, but in moral worth, in strength of spirit, in a peace that is won forever once in any contest fortune has been utterly defeated." – Seneca
There are gifts that we can receive from adversity that are far greater than anything material or symbolic.
“Men succeed when they realize that their failures are the preparation for their victories.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Do you feel like a failure? Instead of getting into an Eeyore-Esque mentality about yourself, try to view these failures are the stepping stones to greatness.
“Prosperity is no just scale; adversity is the only balance to weigh friends.” – Plutarch
If you've ever been through a rough spell in life, you know that the people you thought were your friends don't always pan out to really be your friends at all.
As Ella Wheeler Wilcox eloquently says in her poem Solitude, "Rejoice, and men will seek you; grieve, and they turn and go; They want full measure of all your pleasure, but they do not need your woe."
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” – Khalil Gibran
Who do you look up to in life? Whether it be your father, a historical figure, or an athlete, you'll likely find that your role models have gone through their fair share of adversity to get to the point they're at today.
“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” – Christopher Reeve
When you look at people you admire, it's easy to assume that they were born with something you'll never have. In reality, though, they started out as an ordinary person just like you. The difference is that they were able to endure and persevere through times of incredible difficulty.
Bruce Lee touched upon this same general concept when he said "the successful warrior is the average man with laser-like focus."
When you know where you are trying to go and you are completely focused on your goal, you can overcome any adversity. What will your reward be? Strength and growth.
As Teddy Roosevelt said, "the joy of life is won in its deepest and truest sense only by those who have not shirked life's burden."
"No man is more unhappy than he who never faces adversity. For he is not permitted to prove himself." – Seneca
It might seem like a paradox, but if you want to be happy, avoiding adversity isn't the way.
“Great men rejoice in adversity, just as brave soldiers triumph in war.” – Seneca
If you can learn to understand the gift of adversity, you'll almost be glad for it to appear.
You don't develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.” – Epicurus
Not only will adversity potentially lead to happiness, but it is also how you can cultivate courage.
It can be tempting to wish that life was other than it is. The Stoics are great guys to turn to if you want to overcome that.
"Don’t hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whichever way they happen: this is the path to peace." – Epictetus
Accepting what you can't control can help you find peace in life.
(If you're just getting into Stoicism, Epictetus is a great guy to turn to when you're trying to understand what you can and can't control in life. Check out our article full of Epictetus quotes here.)
"The cucumber is bitter? Then throw it out. There are brambles in the path? Then go around them. That’s all you need to know. Nothing more. Don’t demand to know “why such things exist.” Anyone who understands the world will laugh at you, just as a carpenter would if you seemed shocked at finding sawdust in his workshop, or a shoemaker at scraps of leather left over from work." – Marcus Aurelius
If you're focused on why bad things are happening rather than acting to overcome them, there's an argument that you're guilty of misallocating your resources.
Adversity is one of the threads that ties the human experience together across time and space.
"Others have been plundered, indiscriminately, set upon, betrayed, beaten up, attacked with poison or with calumny — mention anything you like, it has happened to plenty of people." – Seneca
Whatever you're going through, there's a good chance countless others have shared the same experience.
"Remember: you shouldn’t be surprised that a fig tree produces figs, nor the world what it produces. A good doctor isn’t surprised when his patients have fevers, or a helmsman when the wind blows against him." – Marcus Aurelius
Learning to accept the nature of reality can go a long way in helping have the necessary tools to overcome adversity.
"And here you may mention anything you care to name — a fit of uninterrupted coughing to violent that it brings up part of the internal organs, having one’s very entrails seared by a fever, thirst, having limbs wrenched in different directions with dislocations of the joints… There have been men who have undergone these experiences and never uttered a groan." – Seneca
No matter how terrible the circumstance, there have been people that have faced the worst of adversities without flinching.
"Look around you at all the throng of those you know and those you do not, you will find everywhere men whose sufferings have been greater; legend has not granted exemption from misfortune even to the gods." – Seneca
Do you ever feel like things can't get worse than they are? Flip through the pages of history to realize that every time and every person has their troubles.
"‘I did not think this would happen’, and ‘Would you ever have believed that this would happen?’ ‘But why not?’ is my reply." – Seneca
Obstacles and challenges can be so shocking sometimes that we are paralyzed by their occurrence. However, letting this happen to you can be a waste of time, energy, and attention.
"Evil: the same old thing. No matter what happens, keep this in mind: It’s the same old thing, from one end of the world to the other. It fills the history books, ancient and modern, and the cities, and the houses too. Nothing new at all." – Marcus Aurelius
It seems there's a general consensus these days that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. If we didn't live in such bizarrely ahistorical times, we might realize that trouble (and evil) is as old as the earth itself.
"The foolishness of people who are surprised by anything that happens. Like travelers amazed at foreign customs." – Marcus Aurelius
What a perfect comparison. Why be surprised that the world chugs along and sometimes bumps into you along the way? Isn't that precisely what you should expect?
“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” – Dolly Parton
We'll give our last quote to The Smoky Mountain Songbird herself. This is a nice simple, to-the-point maxim to remember on the roughest of days.
It's easy to shrink away from the things that challenge us in life. In the modern world, it's all too easy to live in a bubble of comfort where we are never tested.
It isn't an accident that Stoicism has had a resurgence in popularity these days. Though the original thinkers behind the philosophy might be long gone, their ideas have the potential to serve as a powerful antidote to the cultural ideas that make us weaker, not stronger.
Are you ready and willing to become your best self? Getting to know the ancient Stoics can be a useful tool on your path. Check out our growing library of Stoic quotes here.