Potential: Revealed

Strategic Thinking, Innovative Ideas, Growth Marketing, and Revealing of Potential

Archive for April, 2009

Adversity is an Opportunity

On a plane ride home recently I read a review of a family biography of Henry James, Sr. and his remarkable children. One son, Henry, Jr. was one of the great novelists of all time. Another, William was an intellectual powerhouse and author of the breakthrough work “The Fundamentals of Psychology”. The interesting thing was the odd and hardly idyllic – shall we say “difficult” – familial environment they endured. But it didn’t end there. It wasn’t enough to have an unusual father – one who traipsed around Europe with his family in tow, never putting down roots, subjecting his children to his unique “theories” on education, spirituality, and life and never giving them any chance for normalcy — it was an on-going family saga of unending and dramatic ups and downs which Henry Jr. and William endured throughout their own adult lives.

Why am I writing about these people? Before I say, let me take a tangent to another topic. Recently our adult Sunday school class watched a program about and discussed Randy Pausch’s “Last Lecture” . The story is famous enough that I’ll spare any details of it (although I cannot recommend it enough). What our class discussed, inspired by Randy’s lecture and life, and what we asked ourselves was: “what are the lessons you would like to leave behind for your children when you die?”

The one I offered was “to persevere”. I said the usual trite stuff we heard as kids about “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” and “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and that this would teach my kids to have stamina and courage – which have at various times in life served me well. I want my kids to learn that lesson too, I said. But reading about the James family gave me a different perspective and one that seems more insightful – and powerful. The James’ brothers (as well as Randy Pausch) didn’t endure and overcome as much as they used their life journeys instead to draw strength from, and lead them to, greatness. The challenges they faced turned out to be the “roadmap”, revealing the path to greatness. Why? Because they embraced their life and experiences, continually mixing all of them – the difficult and the tragic, with the good and the bland – until something worthy and satisfying emerged.

So, I’m changing my lesson for my children. While persevering is not a bad lesson to learn, it sounds too episodic to me now, like advising them to simply get over the hump, and just admonishing them to “leave your troubles behind you”. Revealing your potential for greatness is a process (like rocks being polished into gems, a beautiful pearl being developed by an oyster as protection against harmful bacteria), and an attitude that adversity is an opportunity to improve and add to your current greatness.