We all want to be successful at something, and we all have our own definition of success. Regardless of that something or your definition, we all confront unforeseen challenges along the path toward success. These challenges occur for reasons outside our control and because we lack the experience to predict those obstacles. Simply put, we would already have everything we want if we already knew everything we needed to know.
What determines our success is luck and perseverance, not our circumstances. The ancient philosopher Marcus Aurelius said, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” As Ryan Holiday puts it, “The obstacle is the way.” These stoics are referring to the opportunity presented by an obstacle. With every obstacle comes the chance to gain a skill or refine another. For example, Teddy Roosevelt suffered from severe asthma but refused to succumb to the illness. Rather, he spent his time in the gym developing a strong body that could overcome his asthma. Another is David Boies, a trial lawyer diagnosed with dyslexia. This is a profession with a large amount of reading. To overcome his dyslexia, a potential handicap, he developed a sharp memory by actively listening to his school lectures without taking notes. His keen memory transformed into a valuable skill for cross-examination, a time in which Boies could quiz witnesses about minuscule details from days before.
In the cases of Roosevelt and Boies, we find the underdog rising above their circumstances. These individuals didn’t have superpowers. The underdogs simply fought to have a skillset that could overcome adversity. Their struggles gave them the opportunity to gain a unique set of skills. Adversity is like the gym, which many of us avoid. We can witness this firsthand in America’s math classes, where students often question the teacher with, “When will I ever need to know algebra?” or “Why learn math or physics if I’m going to be a *insert different field*.” We develop these skills to gain much more than just an understanding of one subject. We inherent many other unintended abilities along the way.
Learning something difficult like calculus teaches us how to work abstractly and think critically. Most importantly, we learn how to problem solve. The significance of this is only found later in life when pursuing success. Unfortunately, we often don’t know what skills are missing until it is too late.
At each new challenge, we have the opportunity to use our accumulated wealth of knowledge to attack a problem from a new perspective. This is what leads to greatness. This is how people get noticed. Think about it. Are you ever impressed by someone that does what has already been done? Would Boies have become so successful without his memory? Could your challenging circumstances promote success?