Peak Performance in the Face of Adversity



I recently saw the film, Hidden Figures, a true story about three African- American women whose work at NASA was instrumental in the first manned orbit of the Earth. The story takes place in the 1960’s and these women were faced with a triangle of adversities – civil rights issues, gender inequalities, and racial issues. These women, who were gifted in mathematics and science, faced daily adversity, and in spite of the obstacles placed upon them, they never waivered in their determination and performing at their best.


Normally, when we are confronted with an adversarial situation in business, most of us try to address it, confront it, step into it, take on the challenge and try to overcome the distress.  These women at NASA, however, were not able to fight or confront the invisible yet highly tangible racial and gender barriers. Not only did they persevere under extreme biases and perspectives, others took credit for their work that advanced the space race with Russia.


Let me challenge you with the following questions:


1.    How many of you could handle these harsh conditions of prejudice while maintaining your peak performance?

2.    What drives you to continue to push through barriers and adversity, always performing at your best?

3.    No matter the circumstances, do you maintain your integrity, performing at your top even if you may not be given the credit for the work?

4.    Could survival be a determining factor to maintain one’s peak performance?



While pondering these questions for your-self, what is the secret ingredient to maintain top performance in the face of adversity that one cannot confront?  As I contemplate the film and the lives of these three heroines, it is my opinion that something else drove these women. Gifted as they were, they strove to unlock their fullest potential no matter what.   What then, was their secret ingredient?  One could ask, was it pride? And if so, then pride has a definite seat next to peak performance.  What else is a key ingredient to peak performance? 


In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization is the highest level where one wants to realize their fullest potential. Let us then consider the other factors that played into their determination. They embodied:


·      A foundation of the highest integrity to always perform at their best

·       High scores in every area of emotional intelligence as demonstrated by their very being

·      Strong support both at work and at home

·      Belief in themselves and their abilities

·      A composure of not letting biases and cultural perspectives distract them from a higher purpose

·      Focus on what they knew they excelled in and did not let the adversity overtake them

·      True grit


Known as computers in skirts, these women could have given up. But they did not.  At the core of their being was steadfastness, and without them, we might not have made it to the moon.  We need to ask ourselves, when faced with an adversary that cannot be confronted, how are we going to maintain our peak performance in spite of the opposition? Will our integrity and dedication keep us going or, will we give up?


Ask yourself, could you have survived such adversity in your workplace?  Could you, ladies, have maintained your composure under such tense prejudice especially in a male dominated environment?  They did, and they did something more.  They manifested the wise words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee.” These women opened doors and in these times, we all need to have a resolve like they modeled, to keep these doors open for all people in all cultures. 


Note: Increasing your emotional intelligence is a way to maintain your peak performance under adversity and challenging situations.  Contact me today to take the EQi – 2.0 assessments to learn what area could hinder your performing at your best.


Please like and further the discussion with your comments and insights.