Are you underestimating yourself, again?
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Given all the adversity and controversy going on right now — economically, politically, socially — these words by Martin Luther King, Jr. are as relevant as they ever were. No doubt you have got your own share of challenges to deal with. Perhaps it’s uncertainty about the future of your job, maybe you are battling an illness, struggling to pay your mortgage, ensuring your kids don’t go off the rails, resolving conflict in your marriage or workplace, dealing with aging parents, or just maintaining some semblance of balance in your overscheduled life. Whatever your challenges are, how might the way you are handling things differ if you were to trust in yourself more fully, that whatever happens, you can handle it?
We human beings have a tendency to underestimate what we are capable of. When we hear of someone who has been struck by some adversity, people often say “Oh, I could never handle something like that.” But it’s just not the case. Ask anyone who has been struck by adversity and come out the other side of it and they will likely tell you that through the experience they discovered themselves to be more capable, more resilient and more resourceful than they’d previously imagined.
You may recall that, last April, I shared with you about my older brother Frank, who became a paraplegic as a result of a nasty motorbike accident. As much as I’d like to tell you otherwise, Frank is still in a wheel chair, but he is also still smiling, still cheerful and still able to enjoy his life. Of course it’s not to say that he’s enjoyed the challenges ofr the last 9 months nor that he’s pumped up about the challenges that lie ahead this year as he returns to his engineering job in Qatar but he has certainly not allowed his disability to keep him from living his life fully. (Here’s a photo of Frank, my brother Steve, sisters Anne and Cath and me at his New Years’ shed party). Frank’s courage has been inspiring and he’s provided me and countless others with a profound example of what it means to live powerfully, consciously choosing one’s attitude in the face of unwanted circumstances.
But it’s not just about trusting yourself to deal with unwanted challenges. It’s also about trusting yourself to take on new challenges. Challenges that inspire you but simultaneously stretch you; challenges that require you stepping away from the familiar and beyond the realm of “guaranteed to succeed” in which most people like to stay (for obvious reasons!)
Next Tuesday, just a few miles from where I live, Barack Obama will be stepping up to take on a whole world of new challenges that will stretch him and for which he has no guarantee of success. Certainly the attribute I have come to admire most in the man who is soon to become America’s first African-American President is his willingness to act and dream boldly and to inspire others in his vision. In 2006 his ambition to win the presidency of the United States would have been called nothing short of naïve by most people. Whatever your politics, you have to acknowledge his daring and boldness of vision. Indeed I believe that both Barrack Obama, like his hero Martin Luther King Jr. who went before him, is the poster child for what is possible when you trust in yourself to meet the challenges that come your way, are willing to risk failing and are committed doing whatever it takes to succeed. But enough of politics!
What about you and your life? And your challenges and your dreams and your fear of being inadequate to fulfill them? Where could you trust yourself more fully? And if you did that, how would it shift your experience of this day today and the actions you will take to address the challenges that will line your path in the days, months and years ahead?
Remember, mastery of life is not the absence of problems, it is mastery of them. However big! As Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu observed a few thousand years ago, “We are all capable of much more than we think we are.” And yes, that includes you. Don’t shy away from making changes, don’t put off taking chances and don’t let your fear of “not having what it takes” keep you from dreaming bigger and acting bolder. Trust yourself. You have all the resources you need within you to handle your current challenges and to take on new ones that will enable you to experience life and love and yourself – and the full extent of your abilities — more fully. Life is short. Live it boldly!