Seth Kahan
Author, consultant

Seth Kahan

Change expert and author who has advised executives in 50-plus organizations, including Shell, World Bank, Peace Corps and NASA. He can be reached at


Then what?

Q: It's official: A new study concludes that experiencing a few "adverse life events," such as a natural disaster or losing a job, really does make you stronger in the long run. People who sail through and those who face more frequent adversity usually don't fare as well. The researcher says ''people are more resilient than we think." Are setbacks actually a key to success? Have you ever faced major adversity that you weren't able to overcome?

Why is it that two people in the same adverse situation have different responses?

One person rises to the occasion while the other is beaten down. It all comes down to how you frame your life circumstances. Is this an opportunity to grow or bad luck that kicks you when you're down?

Philip Anschutz, the American businessman who today at the age of 70 has a net worth of over $7 billion, built his fortune from scratch. In the 1960s he started drilling his own oil wells. His first efforts were abysmal, turning up one failure after the other.

When at long last he struck crude, the celebrations lasted only a day. The ensuing crisis he called "the most important single event" in his business career. One of his wells caught fire!

Did it kill his efforts? Not at all. Anschutz discovered Universal Studios was making a movie about the legendary oil-field firefighter, Red Adair. The movie starred John Wayne and was called Hellfighters. Anschutz made a deal with the studio. For $100,000, the allowed them to film Adair putting out the well, footage that remains in the movie for all to see today. Anschutz not only pocketed a profit, he saved his business.

Now, why do you suppose Anschultz called this "the most important single event" in his career? Here is what he said: "There's always a point that if you go forward, you win -- sometimes you win it all -- and if you go back, you lose everything, and that was that point for me ... You don't learn that in school. You have to have the initiative, be able to be pragmatic and tenacious, seeing all of the opportunity that could exist."

That's keeping a steady eye on success as if it mattered more than anything in the world. We can all take a lesson from Anschutz's playbook when adversity strikes. Even if it's worth a little less than $7 billion in the long run, it will keep us in good stead.

By Seth Kahan  |  November 15, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Success and adversity Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Getting the job done | Next: Adversity's advantage

Post a Comment

characters remaining

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company