Overcoming Adversity

 When Ode to Misery Beckons ... 
Find Your Ode to Joy

 Steve Kayser interviews international bestselling author, Dr. Paul Pearsall, author of "The Beethoven Factor"

A Most Unusual  Interview

Obstacles, challenges, and tragedies are all part of life. Unavoidable. But lessons learned and shared from real-life experiences can help us in our …

Life of Business or Business of Life.

To win at business or life, adversity has to be faced, fought, and defeated. There is no other way. No options. You either beat it or it beats you. Win or you lose.

Simple, right?


 Overcoming adversity is never simple. Ever.

 Sometimes, despite Herculean efforts, you still don’t win. You’re crushed, mangled, and left feeling like a little dark spot in the middle of the road that vehicles constantly run over, with no thought of the past history and life of that dark spot …

… a dark spot that used to be a living, breathing organism experiencing the joy of life.

Forget Just Surviving. Triumph. Thrive.

But what about those people who not only triumph over adversity, but also astound you by propelling themselves to a higher plane? Against all odds, expectations, or beliefs, they thrive. What drives them? What shared traits do they have? What can be learned?

The Beethoven Factor

Paul Pearsall, Ph.D., the author of "The Beethoven Factor," more than 200 professional articles, and 15 international bestselling books, will help us gain insights and ideas for action into what he calls “Thrivers.” Thrivers are amazingly inspirational people that don’t shrink from adversity, but triumph mightily.

Guess what?

They’re not any different from you or me.

What they have done is faced life’s unavoidable challenges head-on, grow stronger, more vital, and in the end, savored the sweetness life has to offer.

Dr. Pearsall’s writings and wisdom exemplify the Shoot the Donkey key principle of:  

"Taking decisive action to remove all obstacles to success."

The title, "Shoot the Donkey" refers to a classic scene in the movie “Patton” where the Third Army gets critically held up in battle on a bridge, by a cart-pulling donkey that has stopped and refuses to budge, totally blocking the bridge. Life and death are at stake. An MP struggles with the donkey and the owner, trying to get them out of the way.

The entire Third Army halts for this recalcitrant donkey.

General George Patton roars up, leaps out of his jeep, whips out his ivory-handled pistol, shoots the donkey, and immediately has it hurled off the bridge, removing the obstacle. That classic scene not only revealed Patton’s character in a cinematic way, but also embodied the great leadership principle of taking decisive action to remove all obstacles to fulfill one’s mission.


Insight 1

Winners, leaders, and innovators know

 how, why, when, and where to “Shoot the Donkey.”


But First … 

Last week I was crushed. Beaten. Devastated. Totally laid low. Rejected. Humiliated.

Got the picture?

I had the perfect business proposal. That’s right perfect. Beaucoup moneymaker. Once in a lifetime opportunity. And, it was based upon in-depth rock-solid market research, analysis, and innovative future-vision thinking (mine). I submitted my business proposal to the National Academy of Sciences for grant funding. I didn’t want much. A mere $10 million to $15 million dollars. A paltry pittance. I mean geez, in some corporations that’s a bad Christmas party.

Do Tell Steve. Explain.

Okay. This is a no-brainer. Simple. Here goes. I proposed using specialized Electronic Product Codes™ (EPC™) and radio frequency identification (RFID) technologies to track all beer bottles and glasses.

Market Data

Okay – try to be a little visionary here. Put your intellectual facade on for a minute. Worldwide beer consumption is about 20 billion cases a year. I’ll keep it simple and omit kegs and taps. Twenty billion cases with an average of 24 bottles per case is approximately 480 billion bottles of beer.

Your Point Is?

What’s the biggest problem facing the average beer drinker?

Think really hard. Harder. Harder …

Don’t know?

It’s simple really. Lost beer.

Lost Beer?

Yes. How many times have you, or someone you known, went to the bathroom, came back and couldn’t figure out which beer was yours? Which bottle or glass was yours?

Fights Waste and Cures Sickness

Now … what happens at that point? You either take a guess and grab the beer … maybe the wrong beer, and risk swapping spit, sputum and lip swipes with someone … or you order a new beer. Waste or sickness, your choice.

My Brilliant Idea?

Simply attach an electronic tag — a microchip with a miniaturized RFID antenna on the beer can or glass and, Eureka! Suddenly a computer can ‘see’ it. The bartender will tap a key and your bottle, can or glass will light up … with your name, and even a personalized audio sound bite if you really want to push the envelope!

Get it now? Yes, I know. It’s brilliant. But don’t try to crib the idea. I registered it with reallybrilliantideasfromidiots.com.

Show Me the Money 

And … I’d be profitable in the first two weeks of operation. Yup. I’m going to charge 25 cents per tag per bottle … $1 for a reusable, re-programmable glass tag. Conservative estimates on profitability begin in the low billions of dollars in the first six months of operations. Bill Gates, if you’re out there, and want to partner up, click here (sorry, couldn’t help myself)

The Presentation – or Crushed Instantly With Malice Aforethought

I arrived at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington D.C. for my presentation. I was dressed for the occasion … professional business attire.

I laid out my business plan proposal cogently, concisely. Then I dramatically, using storytelling principles I learned from Robert McKee, graphically demonstrated rapid commercialization of the idea, speed-to-market (six months) job creation (thousands), and major global economic development.

Their Response?

I had pre-supposed the prestigious and august group of scientific evaluators would be visionary, strategic, tactical and courteous. Their response? Click here.

Crushed But Not Defeated!

I left Washington with my Kilt riding-high for the entire world to see, but emotionally, I slipped into a

dark moment and spun out of control into a twirling black hole of despair.

One Week Later - While still in an altered-faltered weakened state of mind, my 10 year-old daughter

convinced me that it’d be good for me, would lift my spirits, to take her and her friends shopping at the mall.

Made perfect sense to me.

Nightmare at the Mall

I took them. And then … was tormented unmercifully by a bevy of 10-year-old girls shrieking, squealing, and gleefully causing total chaos in the Limited Too, a clothing store designed by Lucifer himself to replicate a 10-year-old’s room … and sound.

Kindling on the Fire

Was there no respite? No relief for the whupped? My knees began to shake. Dizzying nausea set in. The indoor music system kicked in and set ear-splitting records … Avril Lavigne and Hillary Duff. Both. At once. Dante’s Inferno - a cold shower in comparison.

For once in my life, including many armed military incidents, I feared for my very existence. I began wobbling, staggering towards the exit … the store clerk looked at me strange and asked If I needed a place to sit down, or should she perhaps call for medical assistance?

I reached the exit of the store, “signed” (both hands covered and clenched on my face) to my daughter that I’d be next door. I staggered out and sat down in the first available place, the mall bookstore. To relieve my tortured condition and to prepare for the trip home, I began flipping through a book at random.

It could have been any book. A book on physics, math, the IRS. Anything to dull the pain in my ears from the echoing and relentless shrieks of unintelligible, torturous, 10-year-old shopping-mall intoxicated squeals of glee.

But it wasn’t just any book.

The book was “The Beethoven Factor.”

A random flip had landed me on page 101.

Healing Hope

Every once in a while, in one of those delightfully rare and magical moments of accidental discovery, a jarring thud of healing inspiration and hope occurs. I had one of those moments.

Looking at page 101 of “The Beethoven Factor.” I looked down and read a brief snippet.

It described a 22-year-old woman. She had just begun her life. Just started teaching English Literature in high school. Then … she was struck down by a drunk driver. She was left pentaplegic (unable to move her arms or legs, and unable to breathe on her own.) She was on a ventilator.

Life for her was over, right?


At that time, she was writing a book about her experiences. Writing a book on the computer, which had been specially adapted to allow her to operate the keys with a stick held in her mouth.

A stick held in her mouth.

One more time.

Operating a computer with a stick in her mouth. And yet, she still had a sense of humor.

Insight 2

You don’t have to feel screwed. You can construe. Trust me, that one word has very special power. The dictionary says it means to discover and apply meaning, and what a power that is. It means your life is all in your mind. I am actually happier and more productive now than I have ever been. I sure have more friends and, as you can easily see, I am totally free from multitasking.”

- From Dr. Paul Pearsall’s “The Beethoven Factor”

My problems were now nothing. Nothing. Right then, right there, although I had never heard of the author of “The Beethoven Factor,” it was clear what I had to do … read the book (and, incidentally, the cashier also insisted I pay for the book ... was quite adamant in fact).

So I did.

The Awakening. Mine. Yours?

Dr. Pearsall uses Beethoven as a stellar example of what he calls a “Thriver.” Because, Beethoven, not only in spite of his adversity … but because of his adversity epitomized the “Art of Thriving.”

Why Beethoven?

His ninth symphony, “Ode to Joy,” was written when Beethoven was totally deaf. 


The chords and chorus heard only in his mind. Was he crazy? Was he so crazy as to think that this musical wonder haunting his mind could be adequately expressed to others though he could not hear himself?

On May 7, 1824, at Vienna's Kärtnertor Theater, “The Ninth Symphony” was first performed. Beethoven, totally deaf, could not conduct the premiere. But, he did stand next to the conductor during the performance to indicate proper tempi.

Weep Not for Me My Ode to Joy

On the final note of the premiere, the audience exploded with thunderous applause. But Beethoven, standing next to the conductor with his back to the crowd, looked straight ahead - he didn’t know.

He had heard nothing.

His “Ode to Joy” was received with rare, effusively raw human emotion. The kind reserved for awe-inspiring moments of a singular human’s triumph over seemingly unconquerable odds. And, most unusually, some of the players in the orchestra wept.

Raucous cheering. Yells and tears echoed, thundered.

None of which Beethoven could hear. He continued to conduct.

The solo contralto noticed Beethoven's introspective incomprehension, and turned him around. One could only wonder what went through his mind at that moment. He could not hear.

But he could see. He bowed before the cheering crowd.

Beethoven lived.

Beethoven thrived.

Enter Dr. Paul Pearsall 

Dr. Pearsall, Ph.D., is the author of over 200 professional articles and 15 international bestselling books, including The Beethoven Factor, Miracle in Maui, and The Heart’s Code. He’s a licensed clinical neuropsychologist and one of the most requested speakers in the world. He is also a frequent consultant to national television including “Dateline,” “20/20,” and CNN.

A “Charlie Dickens of a Life – The Best of Times. The Worst of Times.

What’s particularly appealing … and amazing about Dr. Pearsall is that he’s a Thriver too. He barely survived birth, conquered among a litany of other obstacles, total blindness. And then finally, cancer. Dr. Pearsall’s triumph over terminal cancer is documented in the bestseller Miracle in Maui. 


Survive Terminal Cancer?


He was told he would certainly die of an extremely rare type of cancer that strikes down young and healthy people in the prime of their lives. And, for a little extra good cheer, Dr. Pearsall was also told that even if his cancer went into remission he’d die anyway. Die from suffocation caused by a deadly virus allowed to attack his lungs by his chemotherapy-and-radiation-weakened immune system.

Does It Get Much Better Than That?

Yes. He was told the terminal good news on a Good Friday.

Geez, Is That It?

Nope. That Good Friday, as he walked slowly down his driveway, the ache of cancer eating away at him, feeling lost and hopeless, he opened his mailbox and noticed an envelope marked “Urgent. Internal Revenue Service.”

Death and Taxes

Yup, you guessed it. Selected for a random compliance audit of State and Federal tax records for three years. How’s that for some good cheer on Good Friday?

How’d did he react?

He laughed. Laughed so hard he cried.

My kinda guy.


Steve (S): When The Beethoven Factor manuscript was finished, what unexpected obstacles arose that almost derailed it? How did you overcome them?

Dr. Pearsall (Dr. P): I think the ideas and research regarding survival and even resilience over adversity are so dominant in the literature that the idea of “Stress Induced Growth” (SIG) and adversity inspired creativity, beyond mere bouncing back, were a little difficult for many people to accept.

I knew, however, that someone would be aware of the newly emerging field called "positive psychology" and its emphasis on what's best and bravest about us rather than what's worst and how to fix it. 

Insight 3

“Always seek out the seed of triumph 

in every adversity.”

 – Og Mandino


I kept searching until I found a publisher with integrity and what we Hawaiians call "good mana" or energy. I found one in Hampton Roads.

S: What did you think and/or feel when an editor told you that you were a "difficult author” because you were likely to die before you could promote your book?

Dr. P: I've long ago learned the P's of dealing with bad news and toxic people. I don't take criticism or adversity Personally, and do not view setbacks in one area of my life as Pervasive to all other areas, and most of all, I know that that nothing is Permanent.


Insight 4

The P’s of dealing with bad news and toxic people:

  • Don’t take criticism or adversity Personally.

  • Setbacks in one area of your life are not Pervasive to other areas of your life.

  •  Know that nothing is Permanent.

Dr. P: I thought the editor was right that I am "difficult." My Hawaiian name is "Ka`ikena," meaning "person charged with sharing the vision," and I've learned that:


Insight 5

“You can’t help create light without at least a little heat.”

- Dr. Paul Pearsall


S: What is the Beethoven Factor?  

Dr. P: The Beethoven Factor is "SIG, Stress Induced Growth.” Like the composer, there are persons for whom adversity is a stimulus for personal growth and creativity. Also like Beethoven, they aren't "super humans." Like all of us, they are flawed beings, but something within and about them allows them to construe their lives with an upward psychological trajectory even when things seem at their worst. They are not just naive blind optimists. They are "benefit finders" who can discover growth where many others see only disaster.


Insight 6

“Be a 'benefit finder;' discover growth 

where others see only disaster.” 


“Life has meaning only in the struggle. 

Triumph or defeat is in the hands of the Gods. 

So let us celebrate the struggle!”

- Swahili Warrior Song


S: You use Beethoven as the epitome of a “Thriver.” Could you explain?


Dr. P: Beethoven was a brilliantly creative person. Even pending death, total deafness, and often deep despair didn't prevent him from composing the "Ode to Joy" when we might expect him instead to compose the "Ode to Misery."


Insight 7

“When Ode to Misery beckons … find your Ode to Joy."


“Life begins on the other side of despair.”

– Jean Paul Sartre



Dr. P: He was a member of what I call the CIA, Crisis Inspired Awakened. He did what thrivers do and particularly in his later string quartets which broke entirely new ground in classical composition.


Insight 8

CIA = Crisis Inspired Awakening

“When written in Chinese, the word ''crisis'' is composed of two characters - one represents danger, the other represents opportunity.”

- John F. Kennedy


S: In your book you speak about “five reactions to life's challenges.” What are they?

Dr. P: When adversity strikes, we can kindle, meaning make matters worse for ourselves by self-pity and anger, or, we can become victims stuck in a "poor me" mode. We can become survivors, but that wastes a lot of creative energy. That’s why I never call myself a cancer "survivor." We can bounce back to recovery and keep on going on, ever on the brink of relapses, or we can be resilient and get back to where we were before our adversity or challenge. The Beethoven Factor is about thriving, when we actually manage to flourish not only in spite of but also because of your crisis.


Insight 9

Five Reactions to Life’s Challenges … Choose Wisely

  1. Kindling – Make matters worse. React like kindling wood added to fire.

  2. Suffering – Poor me.

  3. Surviving – Pretty essential, but don’t you want more?

  4. Resilience – Bouncing back to where you were before.

  5. Thriving – Flourishing not only in spite of the crisis, but because of it.


S: Are there certain questions one could ask to see if an individual is thriving … or trying to?

Dr. P: In the book, I have a checklist. The more items you check in the checklist, the more likely it is you’re honing your talent for thriving. Some of the questions would include.


Insight 10

Dr. P’s Thriving Talent Questions

  1. Do you feel more alive today than yesterday?

  2.  Do people seem to be made happier by your presence? 

  3. Are you laughing hard every day?

  4. Are you in love with life?

  5. Have you been made stronger by adversity?

  6. Do you often feel overwhelmed by the grandeur and beauty of simple things?


S: What’s your definition of thriving?


Insight 11


“The emergence of a new creative spirit through and because of the darkest times, a spirit that guides us to the Beethoven Factor so we too, can creatively conduct our daily life as an ode to joy.”

- Dr. Paul Pearsall


S: How do you find meaning in misery? In your book, you speak of a man called Izzie. How he found meaning in misery. Izzie is 86 years old, in robust health, vibrantly alive, happy as all get-out, and has a devilish twinkle in his eye. But Izzie has also, in his life … 

·         Watched his sister and parents be dragged away in the middle of the night

·         Watched his sister be raped

·         Watched as Nazi soldiers shot and killed his family … he ran away with eyes closed and fingers in his ears.

·         Was tortured, starved to skin and bones

·         Slept for more than a year in human waste with the haunting, agonizing cries of his fellow prisoners

Izzie should be dead.

Izzie should be crazy.

How could he find meaning in that misery? Any joy in life?


Dr. P: Izzie and the other thrivers I studied not only maintained, but also enhanced their personal hardiness, natural happiness, capacity for healing, and unrelenting hope. All of us have these innate thriving skills, but we are often too busy surviving or languishing to be aware of and mobilize them. Too often we are not fully awake and alive until something goes terribly wrong. 

S: Languishing?

Dr. P: Yes, languishing. The eighth deadly sin is "languishing." It was originally listed as one of the deadly sins until Pope Gregory removed it from the list, but it still robs our life of its energy and joy. Languishing in my research turned out to be the silent epidemic of mistaking a busy and intense life for a meaningful and full one.

Insight 12

Thrivers never accede to acedia.

They grow in hardiness, happiness, healing, and hope.


S: There is a mesmerizing story Izzie recalls in your book. I’ll elaborate a little for our readers (thanks to Dr. P for letting me share this with you). It’s about a lady named Mosha, the other prisoners called her “teacher.” Mosha’s story is important.


Because overcoming adversity doesn’t always mean winning, sometimes it means winning on one’s own terms. Terms that perhaps only you, yourself, can understand.

Mosha was once a dark-haired beauty. But, when Izzie first saw her, her face was scarred by beatings, she was death-camp, stick-figure thin, and a black hollowness surrounded her eyes.

Mosha was a piano teacher.

Mosha had been teaching a student when they came for her. They shot and killed her student but kept her alive. One needs classical music such as Beethoven’s, to uplift the soul and keep your spirits soaring when working in a death camp. They kept her alive.

The Nazi officers asked her to play for them.

She refused.

They asked her.

She refused.

They placed both of her hands on a rock. Took turns, made a game out of gaily breaking her fingers, one by one, with their rifle butts. 

She could have played.

She could have given in.

Instead she defied. Music was sacred to her. She didn’t give up her sacred gift. She won on her terms. She thrived.

She held onto the sacred. And when, through the haze of misery beyond comprehension she would hear Beethoven’s music being played in the officer’s club, she still thrived … and would say in her teacher’s voice:

“Shush! Be quiet now and listen to the deaf man’s symphony. If you listen as he did, you will hear the way to freedom.” - Mosha 

S: Thank you Dr. P.

Insight 13

Hear the Deaf Man’s Symphony. Hear the way to Freedom.

The Deaf Man’s Moonlight

The Deaf Man's Ode to Joy

About Dr. Paul Pearsall

Dr. Pearsall, Ph.D., is the author of over 200 professional articles and 15 international bestselling books, including "The Beethoven Factor", "Miracle in Maui," and "The Heart’s Code." He’s a licensed clinical neuropsychologist and one of the most requested speakers in the world. He is also a frequent consultant to national television including “Dateline,” “20/20,” and CNN.

In addition Dr. Pearsall presents keynote lectures, workshops, and lecture edu-concerts tailored specifically to each group.


You can contact Dr. Pearsall at:

P.O.Box 26356
Honolulu, Hawaii 96825-6356

Phone: 808 395 9641
Fax: 808-396-0043
E-mail: info@paulpearsall.com

Website: www.paulpearsall.com

About Steve Kayser: Steve is currently Cincom's Expert Access Editor and PR Manager. In his spare time, Steve models kilts for Un-Vanity, Non-GQ and The Manly Kilt Wearing Man’s monthly magazines. Steve also headlines fundraising events for his run at an Olympic Gold Medal in the kilt-wearing mechanical bull riding competition to be held in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2050. For more info you can contact Steve at skayser@cincom.com

The Complete "Ode to Joy" as Edited by Frederich Schiller in 1785, available in German, English, and Spanish.

Original Score of Beethoven's “Ode to Joy”