It’s true that no one knows you better than you know yourself. But how well do you really know your true nature? That probably depends on how much you’ve lived through. If life’s been relatively easy, you may have no idea what you’re made of.
Think about it. It’s easy to be kind, patient, and generous when everything is going well. But what if you lose your job or suffer a debilitating accident? Will you still be generous? Will you be kind to those who try to help you, or resentful because they aren’t going through the challenges you’re facing?
Helen Keller wrote in her journal, “Character cannot be revealed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
These are insightful words. I think it’s particularly important to note that she says that adversity inspires ambition. After all, if you never face adversity, what’s going to drive you to achieve your dream or fight for your cause? Chances are good you’ll leave the tough jobs for someone else to do, as you drift easily through your comfortable (and probably boring!) life.
If you have experienced challenges though, you’ve had a chance to test your limits. Adversity is what inspires you to find new ways to do things, to reevaluate why you’re doing them, and push through until you succeed. Plus, you develop a better understanding of who you really are.
Paul Newman also said something important about character: “A man with no enemies is a man with no character.” In other words, we shouldn’t just form our opinions of others based on who their friends are. We should also look at who and what they stand against.
For example, a few years ago, my friend started a small charity. He managed to set up a meeting with a fairly wealthy donor and flew to Edmonton to meet him. When they met, my friend sat down with the potential donor and explained his charity, what they were working towards, and what they stood for. The meeting was going great; the donor seemed excited and engaged.
But then he looked at my friend thoughtfully and asked, “In what ways have you and your organization been attacked and opposed?” My friend was happy to report that he had received nothing but support.
But the donor looked disappointed. He said, “Well, that’s too bad. If your charity really amounts to something, you’ll get your share of opposition. When that happens, come back, and I’ll be happy to donate to your cause.” With that, the meeting ended.
My friend flew home, a little confused. But the longer he thought about it, the more he understood the donor’s decision. Seasoned leaders understand that until we’ve met strong opposition, our character’s never truly been tested.
When was the last time you met adversity in your life? When it happened, what did you learn about yourself?