Wednesday, August 27, 2014

When Your Disadvantages Prove to be an Advantage

New York Times archives

Why do we complain so much about defeat or disadvantage or difficulty?

It is absolutely true that we all benefit from overcoming challenges, therefore we should not shrink in the face of insurmountable odds and difficult tasks and we should be very leery when life is smooth, and peaceful and pleasant.

Two examples...

William Howard Taft

Theodore Roosevelt

William Howard Taft grew to be over 300 pounds and faced several bouts of illness while serving in the Philippines before returning to the US to work on Roosevelt's cabinet and eventually succeed him as President. His physical state deteriorated over years of indulgence and lack of physical exertion.
Teddy Roosevelt, on the other hand, was the picture of health and vitality who regularly took foreign ambassadors and reporters through the woods of Washington DC on rigorous hikes where the only rule was you must go straight over whatever was in your path.  He also was known to dabble in boxing and other combat sports.

So, how did these men start the race?

One of them was the picture of strength and youthful vigor standing over 6 ft tall,  strong and athletic  the quintessential high school quarterback who probably dated the head cheerleader.

The other was sickly as a youth, suffering frequent and severe asthma attacks that nearly led to death.

William Howard Taft is the first example, and Teddy Roosevelt the second.

The lesson here is that it was not the advantages or disadvantages of the hand that they were dealt, but how they responded to them that matters.  William Howard Taft, blessed with physical size, strength, and vitality, wasted away those physical gifts through a life of leisure and indulgence.

Teddy Roosevelt, through the mentorship of his father, attacked his weakness with vigor, dedicating himself to disciplined and rigorous exercise and strength training that helped shape him both physically and mentally.

The lessons are obvious. Encourage your students to do two things in honor of Presidents Taft and Roosevelt.

Don't fret because of difficulty or challenge, but embrace it and improve through disciplined effort.
Don't take for granted your strengths, but seek always to improve and build on the foundation you have been gifted.

What about you, do you have any examples of determination in the face of challenge?  I'm afraid we can all point out plenty of examples of failure in the face of great promise.


Reference: The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin