Using Condoleezza Rice as an example of how one person rose above difficult circumstances certainly seemed to ignite some passion out there! As expected, it also offered another opportunity for the vitriol patrol to spew forth without care or consideration, but that just goes seems to go with the turf.
As Winston Churchill once said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” Not that I’m after enemies, mind you. However, I have learned that some people will lash out at anything that upsets their version of the apple cart.
I’m not a big fan of what Ms. Rice has done with her choices or her politics; however, I am a big fan of the underlying approach to life learned from her parents, who said, “We will have no victims here.”
Refusing to be victimized by circumstances or events is one of the most life’s most powerful lessons, and it comes by embracing the fact that no matter what happens, you still have a choice about how to respond. It is quite interesting to note that no matter how many different ways I share examples of those who have risen above, adapted to trying circumstances, or even survived unthinkable tragedy, there will still be those critics who find a way to ignore the lesson and wind up dismissing the individuals involved as somehow wrong, different or otherwise unacceptable.
As I have noted many times before, Viktor Frankl offers incredible insight about the meaning of freedom and how he used that lesson to survive Nazi concentration camps. But even that seems to get dismissed by those who seek only to criticize or who prefer to remain victimized by their circumstances.
Then there’s W Mitchell, who speaks and writes of overcoming a disfiguring motorcycle accident and a subsequent paralyzing airplane crash. In his book, It’s Not What Happens To You, It’s What You Do About It, Mitchell writes, “Before I was paralyzed there were 10,000 things I could do. Now there are 9,000. I can either dwell on the 1,000 I’ve lost or focus on the 9,000 I have left.” But here again, the critics rise up to dismiss Mitchell as some kind of freakish superhero.
Even when I reprint stories from ordinary folks who have written to share their stories of overcoming adversity, be it losing a job to being brutalized by racism, still the critics come out and find something that’s wrong about the person, the lesson, or even the notion that you can rise above your circumstances.
But, what the heck — let’s give it another go! Here are just a couple of examples of the real stories readers shared with me last week:
Sheila writes of her own experience with overcoming racism:
I know of many women who have decided to take the “Responsible” route. I know from my own experience, that when one is considered to be Black in this country, you must do all that you can to succeed. Our former Secretary of State was taught by her parents to rise above the illogical thinking of those in charge in “Bombingham,” to believe in herself when striving for a better life.
Sheila adds that when people rise above their circumstances, they sometimes find it hard to fit in with old friends and cultures who have chosen to stay behind, locked into their own version of being stuck. As she notes, there are still those who prefer to complain about being victimized “as if those circumstances are written in stone.” She goes on to say:
We can all change our path that we walk on and when we stumble, we can make it part of the dance. Parents and mentors are the key to whether we tend to fall and stay down or get back up, brush ourselves off to start over again. I respect Ms. Rice for her achievements but not her stance or willingness to associate herself with those responsible for wrongdoing.
We have so much finger-pointing going on because everyone seems to have a sense of entitlement for contributing nothing or committing to nothing. It is also hard to keep a positive outlook when people in high places let you know in no uncertain terms that they will not hire someone of your color for a job paying a decent salary. Indeed, I have had that experience many times. However, I did climb through the ranks eventually to receive a decent wage, job title, etc. If I can do it, anyone can.
We may be able to get people to stop acting like victims, just by getting rid of that one major excuse…because color didn’t stop me.
And Paul added:
Thank you for your article today about Condoleezza Rice. The article was very inspiring and well written. I’m going to share it with my Facebook friends.
My political beliefs are mostly aligned with conservatives, although I have a few mixtures of views as well. I believe in smaller, limited government, fiscal responsibility, less debt, fewer entitlements.
What I liked best about your writing is that it reminded me that instead of getting all pissed off about policies that I don’t like, political manipulations and all, I can live these principles in my own life. Principles of spending less than I make, paying off debt, not complaining, and being an example of what I preach with my opinions rather than always trying to control others.
I felt very stuck lately and your article gave me some strength today.
Hu-Man wrote this eloquent summary, which seems quite fitting:
Regardless of whether you agree with Rice and her politics, her journey is an impressive and indeed a rare one. Looking at her experience, we are reminded time and again that it is all about choices we make in our daily lives and from moment to moment.
We may disagree with her stance on issues but how can we deny the depth and breadth of her accomplishments? Another person of similar level of accomplishment, Collin Powell, has also chosen to participate on the other side of the political ledger.
I think it was Obama that once said: “Can we disagree without being disagreeable?” Constant bickering and finger pointing never accomplished anything positive. We need more civility in our lives, ergo, in our society. That is the path toward accomplishing greater and greater feats.
Perhaps Winston Churchill said it best: “If you’re going through Hell, keep going.” He also said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”
What do you think? How could you keep going, with enthusiasm, even when the circumstances seem stacked against you?
I would love to hear from you about your ideas, about what you have done to work around the challenges you are facing, or about what you have seen a friend or neighbor do that has been effective.
Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email and let me know your experience.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, California. Watch for his new book, “Workarounds That Work: How to Conquer Anything That Stands in Your Way at Work,” to be released January 2011. You can find out more about Russell at www.lessonsinthekeyoflife.com. Contact Russell by email at Russell@lessonsinthekeyoflife.com.