Life is not a parabolic curve.  It doesn’t go straight up.  There are a lot of lumps, a lot of bumps.  I have never yet met a successful person that hasn’t had to overcome either a little or a lot of adversity in his or her life.  Overnight success is much more of a myth than reality.

Remember the four-minute mile?  Humans had been trying to do it for centuries, since the days of the ancient Greeks.  They found the old records, how the Greeks tried to accomplish this.  They had wild animals chase the runners, hoping that would make them run faster.  They tried tiger’s milk, not the stuff you get down at the supermarket.  I’m talking about the real thing.  Nothing worked. 

So, the experts decided it was physiologically impossible for a human being to run a mile in four minutes.  Our bone structure is all wrong.  Our wind resistance is too great.  Humans have inadequate lung power.  There were a million reasons – until one day when one human being proved the doctors, the trainers and the athletes all wrong. 

In 1954, Roger Bannister showed the world that it could be done.  Over the next few years, more and more people broke the four-minute mile once they realized that yes, it was possible.

When Bannister passed away in early March of this year, it brought back a lot of memories from that time in history that I remember so well. 

The world was changing a great deal.  People around the world were overcoming the long-perceived physical boundaries of nature.  American pilot Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947.  And who can forget Sir Edmond Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay conquering Mount Everest in 1953.

Many famous people have overcome tremendous adversity to triumph:

  • Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and one of the richest people in the world, dropped out of school and had his first business fail.
  • Oprah Winfrey overcame terrible poverty growing up in rural Mississippi to become a billionaire media mogul who has inspired millions around the world.
  • Albert Einstein didn’t speak until he was four years old and couldn’t get a job in physics for two years after graduation. 
  • Richard Branson didn’t let his dyslexia stop him from founding Virgin Group and controlling more than 400 companies.
  • Popular recording star Jay-Z came from a rough Brooklyn neighborhood but couldn’t get signed to any record labels as a rapper.  In 2013, “Time Magazine,” ranked him as one of the most influential people in the world.
  • Vincent Van Gogh is considered one of the greatest painters of all time, yet he only sold one painting during his lifetime.
  • Simon Cowell, star judge from “American Idol” and “The X Factor” had a record company fail.

Botanists say trees need the powerful March winds to flex their trunks and main branches, so that the sap is drawn up to nourish the budding leaves.  Perhaps people need to meet the stresses of life in the same way, though we dislike enduring them.  A stormy period in our lives can be a prelude to a new spring of life and health, success and happiness.  That is if we keep our self-confidence and faith in the future.

Everyone faces adversity, pain, loss and suffering in life.  When you go through those periods, it’s hard to remember that the emotions you’re feeling are only temporary.  The best thing to do is to develop a plan for what you will do when these times hit and find your way to the silver lining – the place where you can feel hopeful again.

You need a personal sense of commitment, the ability to let go when appropriate, and strong values.  Take charge of the things you can control, such as your treatment of others, the way you spend your time outside of work, how you think about yourself, how often you exercise, when and how to share your feelings, how to let others know you’re stressed and how mature you act.

Who says that you can’t accomplish your goals?  Who says that you’re not tougher and better and smarter and harder working and more able than your competition?  It doesn’t matter if they say you can’t do it.  The only thing that matters is if you say it.  So, we all know, if we believe in ourselves, there’s hardly anything that we can’t accomplish.

Mackay’s Moral:  How you handle adversity says a lot about how you will handle success.

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