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 wavered 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 yourself, 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.


Melinda Fouts, Ph.D.
Melinda Fouts, Ph.D.
Melinda Fouts, Ph. D., International Executive Coach, Psychotherapist is a select Columnist & Featured Contributor for BIZCATALYST 360° and a Member of the Forbes Coaches Council (comprised of Top coaches offering insights on leadership development & careers), and founder of Success Starts with You. She was recently chosen to receive the Empowered Woman of the Year Award for 2021 given by the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP). She also received the honor as the top international coach of the year in 2020 by the IAOTP. She provides visionary leadership in her field and her many credentials prove she has the ability to empower women worldwide. Her exemplary role as a female professional in a male-dominated industry displays her influence, capability, and proficiency. Inclusion with the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP) is an honor in itself, only a few women are chosen for this distinction based on their years of experience, professional accomplishments, academic achievements, leadership abilities, and contributions to their communities. With innovation and compassion, these women empower others to reach their goals, while creating change for future generations. With over 2 decades of professional experience as a business coach and psychotherapist, Dr. Fouts has proven herself as an accomplished professional and expert in the field. As a dynamic, results-driven leader, Dr. Fouts has demonstrated success not only as an Executive Business Coach, but in every role she has held. Prior to executive coaching and leadership development, Melinda has been in private practice as a psychotherapist for over 20 years. She leverages her strengths and insights from her psychology background to help leaders and managers in transition through increased self-awareness. Owner and founder of Success Starts with You, is based upon the premise that you are already successful. Increasing self-awareness to increase emotional intelligence and unlocking blind spots are paramount to continued success. Dr. Fouts leverages her strengths and insights from her psychology background to help leaders and managers in transition through increased self-awareness and discovering their blind spots. It can be lonely at the top and as a thought partner, she makes sure you are not alone. Dr. Fouts’ unique approach from other business coaches is that she helps get rid of thinking and behavioral patterns that tend to keep executives stuck. Her key areas of expertise include but are not limited to: small business consulting, enhancing emotional intelligence, self-awareness, unlocking fullest potential, brainstorming, identifying limitations, challenges, obstacles and optimizing performance. In addition, her successful career as a Psychotherapist and International Executive Business Coach, Dr. Fouts is a sought-after speaker whose key-note address to Women’s Leadership Conferences is Channeling Feminine Power in the Face of Adversity. Her newly released book, Cognitive Enlightenment, was to be presented at the London Book Fair, March 2020, the NY Book Fair, May 2020, and the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2020 until COVID hit. Melinda received her Ph.D. in Jungian Psychology from Saybrook University and her Masters in Psychology from Pacifica University. Melinda has worked as a consultant with executives and businesses for over 20 years. As a result of her experience and studies, she has developed a unique craft to fine-tune leadership development for peak performance. She lives in Colorado with her big, beautiful dog, Stryder. For more information on Dr. Fouts please visit:

DO YOU HAVE THE "WRITE" STUFF? If you’re ready to share your wisdom of experience, we’re ready to share it with our massive global audience – by giving you the opportunity to become a published Contributor on our award-winning Site with (your own byline). And who knows? – it may be your first step in discovering your “hidden Hemmingway”. LEARN MORE HERE


  1. Rereading your article, it reminds me of video games where when you scored enough points, you would “level up”. The one game I keep thinking of is “Altered Beast.” It’s based on the legend where Hades, the god of the underworld, kidnaps Persephone. Hades doesn’t want you to save her, so he puts things in your way. You’re first level up is getting muscular and stronger. The second level up you would become a powerful animal.

    Though this is a video game, it follows good elements in storytelling where heroes have to level up several times to be strong enough to defeat the dragon near the end of the story.

    In life, you don’t train, fight, then win.
    In life, you train, fight, lose, lose again, level up, win, lose, level up, win, and then keep on winning. Those that never lost are those that never progressed.

    • The Persephone and Demeter myth is one I am very fond of, Chris. In life, we always encounter obstacles and rather than resist them, we need to find a way to work through them. Thank you for your insight here and furthering the discussion.

  2. I’m not familiar with the movie. But while working in very harsh teams where I faced prejudice and racism I needed a support network of people to build me, keep me focused on the end game, and keep me sane.

    I once believed an individual alone, that leader, could let anything wash over them and be unaffected. I now no longer believe this. Everyone can break, it’s just we have different levels of tolerance and vulnerabilities. The question is when we do break, who will help put us back together again? We just can’t do it alone.

    I liked your article. It reminded me of a director who told me that he could deal with anybody and with any situation. Two months after telling me, he was terminated. He just didn’t have enough EI to realize just how bad things got.

    • You suggest an excellent point, and that is, to have the support around you to help you manage and cope, and/or “put you back together again” when we do break. Thank you, Chris, for your transparency and insights. It is greatly appreciated.