Dispatches, October 1998
Oprah, That Carabiner Won’t Hold
Paul Stoltz explains by anybody who isn’t a climber is, well, a loser.
By David Rakoff
So you think fending off that grizzly attack with your portable cappuccino-maker last summer on Glacier’s Ptarmigan Trail means you can cope with adversity, eh? Well, unless the encounter took place atop a 14,000-foot peak, don’t bet on it. At least that’s the view of Paul Stoltz, 38, a motivational consultant from Flagstaff, Arizona, and author of
Adversity Quotient: Turning Obstacles into Opportunities — the adrenergic self-help book that, since its debut last year, has sold 65,000 copies, been translated into seven languages, received flattering treatment from the Wall Street Journal, and this month may, if he’s lucky, garner Stoltz his third appearance on
The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Claiming that the most important ingredient of success is the ability to bounce back from adversity, Stoltz believes that people fall into one of three categories. At the bottom of the ladder are “Quitters,” pathetic failures who “abandon the climb,” choosing instead to “opt out, cop out, back out and drop out.” Only slightly higher on the evolutionary hierarchy are “Campers,”
who go a reasonable distance but then find a smooth plateau — a “comfortable prison” — on which to hide from risk. “Their days of excitement, learning, growth and creative energy are long gone,” Stoltz notes dismissively. And finally, perched haughtily at the top of the heap are “Climbers,” those who continually embrace and overcome challenge in all its forms. “Only
Climbers live life fully,” declares Stolz. He calls them the “Energizer Bunnies of life.”
Not surprisingly, Stoltz considers himself a Climber (he has scampered up a number of 5.10 pitches in Yosemite and the Tetons). He says he gravitates toward images of climbing because “the sport involves raw courage, and because it’s so much about self-sufficiency.” His wall-rat metaphors have made a splash with clients like Motorola and Marriott, which are attracted to the
notion of ascertaining their employees’ AQ, or “adversity quotient” — an index that, Stoltz emphatically believes, offers a more accurate gauge of success and performance potential than talent, age, genes, temperament, or IQ. The possibility of measuring AQ apparently holds considerable appeal for many large corporations: Forbidden by law from using IQ tests to screen job
applicants, they can presumably employ the AQ test to help them identify workers with a winning attitude and weed out the weenies.
While Adversity Quotient has sparked interest from as far afield as governments in South America and the Singapore school system, its impact at home offers an indication of how deeply the extreme sports vogue has penetrated mainstream America. Indeed, Stoltz has been granted the coveted opportunity to bask in the imprimatur of pop culture’s most
powerful doyenne: He has been a guest on Oprah twice and harbors keen hopes of being summoned back again. If that happens, it will give him a chance to plug his next project: A sequel to Adversity Quotient that, Stoltz explains, will help readers work on raising their AQ levels “by getting even deeper into the DNA of
success, and by giving people the tools so they can climb on their own without Oprah having to lead every pitch. She’s a real Climber, you know.”