Skillsoft Blog

Become an Alchemist: Expect the Unexpected

By Shawn Hunter

It’s an astonishing thing to observe people who encounter obstacle after hurdle after challenge, and yet seem to only gain strength and confidence and power after each seemingly insurmountable roadblock is set before them.

There’s a great scene in KungFu Panda 2 in which the bad guy – an evil peacock – laments, “How many times do I have to kill the same panda?!” because the Panda, of course keeps getting stronger throughout the movie, until the end (spoiler alert!) in which he’s catching blazing cannonballs and throwing them back.  All because he’s found inner peace.

Terry Fox was like that.  He developed cancer in 1980, and while still in the hospital, decided to run across Canada to raise money and awareness for cancer research.  We lost Terry to cancer but only after he had run several thousand miles across Canada.  His mother Betty Fox kept Terry’s legacy and spirit alive for the last thirty years.  Betty died last week and the world is a better place for their energy and passion.

In the book Born to Run, we learn Scott Jurek had such an alchemy moment at the 2005 Badwater Ultramarathon.  It’s a 135 mile ultramarathon.  Run in Death Valley at temperatures typically approaching the mid-120s.  After Scott collapsed after (only!) 55 miles in a ditch in 125 degree heat in a catatonic stupor, he searched his mind for ten minutes, and then stood to run the next 80 miles in record time to win the race.

I’ve watched my mom, Bev Hunter, conjure resilience and calm in the storm of cancer these last six months.  Harnessing the cumulative strengths of her community, her faith, her research-driven analytical mind, family, and joie de vivre, she has transmuted obstacle into power, challenge into growth, fatigue into enlightenment.  And Erik Weihenmayer has been a great source of support and inspiration to her.

Erik uses that term Alchemist to describe just such people who turn adversity into strength, a challenge into innovation, a smack-down into power.  Take a look at this Leadership Development Channel QuickTalk video clip as he describes his early efforts into understanding leading through adversity.

QuickTalks: Erik Weihenmayer: Alchemy – Harnessing the Power of Adversity


Think of adversity not as an impediment but as a pathway to greatness.

Erik continues to inspire people as a motivational speaker and with his latest undertaking, we think he will  inspire an even broader audience. Erik is a contestant on Expedition Impossible and we’re wishing Erik and his teammates a successful journey.  May he and his team find the alchemy needed to win.

I certainly agree we have the ability to surprise ourselves.  If you watch kids, they do it all the time while testing the boundaries of their own possibilities.  But the key is to take the leap, sign up for that daunting project, or impossible race, or mythic challenge you might think is beyond you.  Build those capacities, strengths and creative resources now, because you never know when the world is going to sign you up for something beyond your control.

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