Painful Setback? 3 Ways Adversity Fuels Creativity

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Painful Setback? 3 Ways Adversity Fuels Creativity

Adversity hurts.

It’s easy to talk about fighting for our dreams when everything is going well. But when the pain of a real set-back smacks us hard in the face, we wonder if we’re really cut out for this.

I recently experienced a painful setback when I was a top candidate for a job I really wanted, but didn’t get. It was a Friday, and I was on my way to St. Louis for a quick weekend getaway with my husband. I was told i’d hear back from the company by the end of the business day.

I knew I gave a stellar interview, and was very hopeful about the job. Plus, getting some great news would make my vacation in St. Louis start on a great note–I imagined toasting our drinks to new beginnings and finally having more income for our family.

The phone rang just as we were pulling into the city, and my heart raced as I recognized their number. As the manager politely stumbled over phrases like, “It was a really hard decision…” I braced for impact. I managed to thank her for the opportunity before hanging up and bursting into tears. This was the 3rd rejection i’d had since applying for full-time jobs–i’d been hopeful about each one, and this third one felt like a smack in the face.

I spent a good 10 minutes venting to my husband about the situation before coming to terms with the fact that I was on vacation, and I would have to find a way to get over this.

I decided i’d take a hot bath when we got into the hotel and just do some self-care.
Mulling around the bathroom, still sniffling and gasping for air, a thought occurred to me:

“I am definitely going to write about this!”

I started to smile, slightly. I thought, what would happen if the path to my dreams was super easy and painless? What would I have to write about? Would I even appreciate my success if it came effortlessly?

With that, I decided that this pain would become my ally. Here are 3 ways adversity fuels creativity:

1. It evokes emotion– Creative work is often the embodiment of emotion. The fiery red, frenzied brush strokes in an angry painting, the melancholy tone of a song.  This is why awesome bands get so shitty when they become rich–they aren’t experiencing the deep pain and adversity that made their music so relatable. This world would be pretty dull without both positive and negative emotion.

2. It facilitates personal growth– Like it or not, pain makes you grow as a person. When you handle painful experiences, you get to know yourself on a deeper level–and the more I get to know myself, the more creative I become. When my mother died and my father-in-law became paralyzed in the same year, I couldn’t believe I survived that much turmoil. I developed a self-trust that made me more confident I could handle any situation that came my way.

3. It inspires– Without the pain I experienced, this post would not exist. In fact, this entire blog is based on my struggle to fight through fear and express myself creatively. Without the “fight,” it wouldn’t exist. No one wants to read a blog titled, “Check Out How Easy it Was to Accomplish All My Dreams!”

Pain sucks–there’s no getting around those awful, heartbroken, stomach sinking feelings. But pain is feeling, and feeling means we’re alive. So next time you feel pain, as tough as it is, say a small thank you. Thank you for helping me feel. Thank you for inspiring.

Thank you for this life experience.

Image Credit: 123RF

Are you inspired by your pain and adversity? Tell us about it in the comments! 




  1. How very true! It hurts at the time but later we can use that energy to fuel our dreams. We become even more committed than before.

    I am sorry for the losses you have experienced. Your writing will help a lot of people. Thank you.

    • Thanks so much for your comments Paula! Indeed, it’s not the good times that shape us into who we are, it’s how we triumph over pain!

  2. Couldn’t love this more, Ivy. So much truth and wonderful inspiration of perspective! Thank you

    • You are welcome friend. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  3. I must admit I’m more inclined towards Somerset Maugham’s famous contrarian quotation from THE MOON AND SIXPENCE:-
    “It is not true that suffering ennobles the character; happiness does that sometimes, but suffering, for the most part, makes men petty and vindictive.”
    But both he and I could be wrong!

    • I think both can be true, it depends on the person experiencing the pain, and how they choose to respond. You can let your pain harden you, and become disillusioned with the world, or you can let it awaken compassion within you. I just recently finished Viktor E Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” in which he says,

      “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

      I find his insights interesting bc he was a psychiatrist before he was a prisoner in Auschwitz, so he studied the other prisoners while he was in there. He did say that many of the men he was in there were affected in the way your author speaks of.

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