The Advantage of Disadvantages

There are distinct advantages to having disadvantages in life.  People who have to overcome disadvantages are the ones who end up being the most memorable, and who end up making significant contributions to other people’s  lives.  Having to wrestle with adversity in life helps to develop coping mechanisms in the personality and even physical constitution that propel a person beyond what is possible in individuals who are not thus challenged.  This concept goes against what many people believe are advantages.  Advantages are often thought of as things like excellent physical health, financial prosperity, social skills, etc.  However, a brief examination of the people in history and currently who make a positive difference in the world (or some small portion of it) shows that many of them have had great challenges in life.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his best-selling book, David and Goliath, said, “We have a definition in our heads of what an advantage is — and the definition isn’t right.  And, what happens as a result?  It means that we make mistakes.  It means that we misread battles between underdogs and giants.  It means that we underestimate how much freedom there can be in what looks like a disadvantage.” (Gladwell, Malcolm, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Little, Brown and Company, October 2013).

Further evidence of the advantage of disadvantages, and the disadvantage of advantages can be found in some sociological research that followed the lives of children who came from upper middle class homes, made good grades, had athletic ability, had strong social skills, and stable family lives.  By age 21, this group had a much higher suicide rate than the control group which came from less “advantaged” circumstances.  The triggering event for suicide was often something like a poor grade on a college exam, a break-up with a girlfriend, or not being hired for a job.  The consistently “advantaged” kids had never learned how to manage stress, so when faced with what many of us would consider to be a very minor stress, they were overwhelmed from never developing any coping mechanisms for stress.  People who must deal with challenges in life have the opportunity to develop significantly better skills at coping with stress, and have much greater stress tolerance.

There are many other advantages to having disadvantages.  People who cope effectively with disadvantages are more motivated to look beyond the obvious situation in order to creatively and insightfully come up with solutions to problems, and new ways to get around obstacles.

Much stronger intuition can develop in people who have disadvantages.  They also look deeper into life and into themselves to develop a deeper understanding of themselves and of spirituality and guidance from higher consciousness as well as from Higher Power.

Humility is necessary in order to deal effectively with life, relationships, and in order to develop spiritually.  Disadvantages can be humbling, and that humility can actually lead to us finding more meaning and guidance in our lives.

Looking at our illness as an advantage can lead to finding new perspectives, new solutions to problems, and new meaning in your life.  Some other specific attitudes are also characteristic of people who turn their disadvantages into advantages.

Focusing on your strengths is also very important.  Know your personal strengths in all aspects of your life, and emphasize them.  In the analogy of David and Goliath, David knew he was just a puny kid with few advantages in most areas of his life.  But, he was well-aware of his ability with a slingshot (likely was scolded for spending too much time messing around with it).  So he looked at that enormous giant with a hundred times David’s strength, and said, “I can handle this.”  That is another characteristic of people who can turn disadvantages into advantages: They believe that they “Can do it.”

Of course, these overcomers never look at themselves as “victims.”  A victim mentality can be paralyzing.  They focus on what they have, rather than what they don’t have.

They also have a passion and a focus in life.  Something that motivates them and gives them the energy to keep going.  This can be as simple as a dream, a person, or a social cause.

Find the advantages in your disadvantages, and be a giant slayer!

Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.,   August 10, 2016

4 thoughts on “The Advantage of Disadvantages

  1. Dear Dr. Knippers, Again, you have given great truth and understanding for those of us who have more of a challenging life than many others. Thank You, we are really blessed


  2. Glad to be back on your followers list, Dr. Knippers! I’m currently exploring the advantages of being in my 70s, a place in life many would consider a disadvantage. But it’s true about being older and wiser — if one chooses to make it true.


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