It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...
This classic beginning of Charles Dickens timeless masterpiece, 'A Tale of Two Cities' is my life in a nutshell. After my recent posts, 'The Gift of Gratitude' and 'Thanks & Giving, Two Words That Say It ALL!!', I thought it might lead some to believe my life is filled with nothing but rainbows, sunshine and unicorns. My dear sister-in-law Sarah Farnsworth recently sent me a meme that I couldn't stop laughing at. It was a picture of the word "apocaloptimist" - def: someone who knows it's all going to shit, but still thinks it will turn out OK. Needless to say, she was referring to me. Though I own the fact that I lean towards being the optimist, I also know with it comes a lot of heartache, hard lessons, devastating losses, and flat out pain. I thought I'd share my human side with those that otherwise think it doesn't apply to me because I choose to look for the benefit in every adversity.
Napoleon Hill, the author of 'Think and Grow Rich', was commissioned by steel magnate Andrew Carnegie to study the most successful and powerful people of the early twentieth century. This list included luminaries such as John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Charles M. Schwab, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and F.W. Woolworth to name a few. Due to Carnegie's enormous wealth and influence, he knew these titans of industry, politics and world leadership personally. His goal was to have Napoleon study them over a 20-year time period to find the commonalities of success and present his findings to the world. Through Napoleon Hill, 'Think and Grow Rich' would be Carnegie's greatest contribution to mankind, far superseding the money he had accumulated as the wealthiest human in the history of the world at that time. I share this because one of the principles Napoleon learned in his studies was this, "in every seed of adversity lies a seed of equal or greater opportunity".
I read this book for the first time over 25 years ago and among the 14 principles he shared as being the common characteristics of those he studied, this characteristic of high achievers has been the one that stood out the most for me. Using my life as an example here are are several personal facts of both the best of times and the worst of times...
Best...I was raised by an incredibly accomplished mother and father who provided opportunities for my siblings and I that very few African-Americans were afforded. Worst...only then to watch their marriage fall apart, shattering my illusion of having the perfect family unit, which led to an acrimonious pending divorce . Before the divorce was final, even more devastating was losing them both; 31 days apart, as first my mother, then my father died unexpectedly.
Best...in high school, I rose like a phoenix both academically and athletically. I was voted the first African-American President in the history of my school as a Junior, elected and appointed to the American Legion Buckeye Boys State that same year (an invitation only, eight-day hands-on experience in the operation of the democratic form of government), and a record shattering undefeated wrestler. Worst...at the same time, due to being only one of two African-American students in my class, I was met daily with the atrocities of racism and prejudice while also failing to reach my lofty record setting athletic expectations by losing when it counted most.
Best...in college, I earned a full-ride scholarship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison due to my athletic accomplishments and was on the precipice of breaking through and reaching my goal of becoming an NCAA All-American. Worst...though ranked in the top 10 at my weight class in the country and a returning national qualifier, I was then met with my new wrestling coach, at the eleventh hour, deciding I wouldn't be representing my team at the Big Ten Championship. Though I challenged his decision and won; ultimately, he got the victory and set up an overwhelmingly unfair wrestle off in which ultimately I lost...effectively ending my wrestling career.
Best...after failing successfully in 10 business ventures over 12 years after college, I finally broke through and found success in my 11th! My childhood friend, his partner and I built a nationally renown chiropractic practice management company in less than two years that reached unprecedented heights. Worst...only to be met with a phone call the same day I put an offer on a new home to be told I was fired from the company I built. (BTW, this 'worst' led to another 'best' called Chiro One Wellness Centers;-)
Best...finally meeting and marrying my soulmate Stephanie, that's exceeded my wildest dreams on what a relationship could and should be while having a daughter that is all any parent could ever hope for and more. Worst...which only occurred after two failed marriages, a contentious divorce, near financial ruin and a relentlessly contemptuous ex.
As Napoleon Hill learned and shared, in each adversity, there has been unfathomable blessings that have occurred as a result that are clear as crystal now. Each blessing also brings with it unknown challenges that you can't foresee until you're faced with them. You can't have one without the other. If you know this, as I do, then it simply becomes a choice of where you choose to put your focus and energy.
If you choose to focus on the challenge, then there's no room for recognizing the gift it presents to you. No matter how bad it is at the moment, 'this too shall pass'. If you choose to focus on the blessings, even when you can't see them immediately; it's only a matter of time until they are manifested. The fact of the matter is my life is both rainbows, sunshine and unicorns AND heartache, losses and pain. I just choose to be an 'apocaloptimist'. At the end of the day, that's all it ever is anyway...a choice. Choose wisely and embrace the suck...it's worth the challenges to reap the rewards. Believe...