Two border officers on the other side of the counter made comments and asked questions for forty-five minutes. The longer it went, the worse I felt. I was told my American girlfriend gave reason to think I might stay in America and work. I was fingerprinted and asked if I had committed crimes anywhere else. Trick question. “I have not committed crimes anywhere,” I said. They asked about bank accounts. When I showed I had work appointments in Canada in a few days they took my phone and asked who different people were. They jumped on any hesitation. “You have no right to be here, you know,” one of the officers said. I told them of the 1500 meals and 200 places to stay an organization I led had made available for stranded Americans on 9/11. “That doesn’t matter,” I was told. “Why would you tell us that?”

I train people how to communicate and self-regulate when their psychological state escalates, but I didn’t do well myself that day. As I left the building the thought came to me: “What if this is training? What if this adversity is training me for composure even when people are trying to unbalance me?” My motive changed from “How do I get out of this?” to “How do I succeed in this?”

The next time I crossed the border my approach was different. I focused on what was in my control: my own attitude and words. I did not expect to be welcomed, but I chose to be positive and assertive. Before crossing, I imagined myself in the same situation, but without fear. I worried less about the attitudes and actions of others; things beyond my control.

What if hard circumstances are really training? When we feel our psychological state escalating we can ask: What is the opportunity for growth in this?

For the nice person who is often taken advantage of, it may be time to stand up to someone. For the person who is easily angered, the next frustrating situation may be an opportunity to grow in patience. For a lazy person, free time may be a chance to take initiative, for another it can be an opportunity to relax. Challenge develops both strength and skill.

When difficult circumstances repeat themselves, it is a chance to do things just a bit better than last time. And if you miss it, you’ll get to try again.