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SUMMARY: Accomplished historical figures were not born with some super human like resilience that shielded them from disappointment, self-doubt or misgivings. Each had to wage their own inner battles with fear as they worked to overcome the obstacles that lined their path to success. What they ultimately learned was that your setbacks & cynics don't define you. Your responses do.
In December, 1903, a New York Times editorial questioned the intelligence of the Wright Brothers who were trying to invent a machine, heavier than air, that could fly. "It simply defies the laws of physics," they wrote. One week later, at Kitty Hawk, the Wright Brothers took their famous flight
If you study history, you will find that all stories of great success are also stories of great triumph over adversity. But often we overlook the setbacks and only see the end success. We think the person got lucky: "He or she must have been at the right place at the right time." Or maybe they were just really smart. Or talented. Or well connected. But that’s all bunk. While it may have been a little bit of each, what ultimately led to their success was their refusal to allow their setbacks and failures to define them.
Einstein did not speak until he was four and did not read until he was seven, causing his teachers and parents to think he was mentally handicapped, slow and anti-social. Eventually, he was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. You could say he had a slower start than many of his childhood peers. But I'm sure you'd agree that he eventually caught up pretty well. Today the name Albert Einstein is synonymous with genius.
As a young cartoonist, Walt Disney faced countless rejections from newspaper editors. He "lacked natural talent" they said. One day a minister from a local church took pity on the young cartoonist and hired him to do some cartoons in a small mouse infested shed behind the church. After seeing a small mouse, he became inspired to draw it. And so, Mickey Mouse was born.
One day a partially deaf four-year-old-kid came home with a note in his pocket from his teacher, "Your Tommy is too stupid to learn. We cannot have him at our school." His mother decided to teach him herself. Partially deaf and with only three months of formal schooling, Tommy grew up to be Thomas. Thomas Edison went on to fail approximately 10,000 times before he succeeded in inventing the light bulb.
And even Oprah Winfrey, had her fair share of struggles, sorrows and setbacks. Oprah did not become one of the most influential women in the world by allowing others to define her, giving into her self-doubts, or throwing in the towel when the going got tough. After enduring a rough and often abusive childhood in rural Mississippi, Oprah was fired from one of her first jobs as a television reporter, being told she was "unfit for TV." She now has her O.W.N. network!
Of course, you may feel like you have little in common with Oprah or Disney, Edison or Einstein. But that isn't true. You do. They were not born with some super human like resilience that shielded them from disappointment, self-doubt or misgivings. They each had to wage their own inner battles with fear of failure as they worked hard to overcome the external obstacles that lined their path to success. What distinguishes these people is that they did not become a victim to their failures. When they fell down, they got back up. And when people told them it couldn't be done, they refused to buy into their lack of belief.
There are things that you and only you can do, things that will never be done if you do not do them. But any worthwhile accomplishment is going to call on you to trust in yourself more fully, to risk making mistakes and forgive yourself when you do, to press on when the going gets tough, and to refuse to allow your setbacks to define you (know the cynics in your life).
How you choose to interpret your failures will either move you forward in life or hold you back. Every failure can be turned into a stepping stone to success. Every mistake is a lesson in what not to do. Every setback is an opportunity to dig deeper into yourself, to access resources you didn't know you have and to acquire wisdom you could gain no other way.
Every story of success is also a story of triumph over adversity. What story are you writing?
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Margie Warrell is an accredited executive life coach, speaker, syndicated columnist and best selling author of Find Your Courage. She is recognized internationally as an expert on living and leading with courage.
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