Upward Mobility

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By Mark E. Smith

Anyone who tells you that “all men are created equal” is simply stating rhetorical idealism. The fact is, we know we’re not all born equal – some are born into lives of privilege, while others are born into far more grave circumstances.

If you weren’t born into a life of privilege – albeit, wealth, a stable home, good health, and so on – you’ve probably seen your hopes and dreams thwarted at some point. When an upper-class kid, with good-looks, athleticism, and not a stress in the world goes to college on his or parent’s dime, a lot is a given, success is almost a birth right. However, if you’re like some of us who weren’t so fortunate, you don’t stare at silver platters, but you encounter a lot of roadblocks and mountains to climb. And, that’s OK – be happy for the privileged ones, but also see the extraordinary potential in yourself and others like you, those who have to work harder, those who face greater adversity, those for whom it takes more time, but get there, no less.

See, you can’t worry about what those of privilege have, or that you got the proverbial short end of the straw. So what if she has Daddy’s money, or he got a promotion by being at the right place at the right time. Life isn’t just about luck of the draw; it’s a marathon about tenacity. You have what you have, no matter how little, and it’s your job to make the most of it, building upon it over the long term – with laser-like focus, unwavering drive, and, yes, do-or-die tenacity. You have no safety net, and that in itself will make you a better tight rope walker in the end – you won’t fall because you can’t risk falling.

And, none of it is easy – climbing mountains never is. But, it’s totally possible. At times, you may have to make extreme sacrifices – maybe you live in a hole-in-the-wall place, with no television, subsisting on Top Ramen because the little money you have covers the books for your community college courses. Or, maybe you go to work despite health issues because you wish to excel in your career regardless of any adversities. The fact is, as long as you have unyielding tenacity and focus – where you have the guts to make sacrifices that others run from – you will succeed, period. Life isn’t for the privileged; life is for the strong.

Interestingly, political beliefs aside, our most recent three presidents are a great study in privilege versus tenacity – and where the playing field is leveled. President George W. Bush certainly worked hard in his life, but was born into privilege and a family legacy that led him to President, his grandfather a U.S. Senator, and his father, of course, a President. By contrast, President Clinton’s father died three months before his birth, and his later stepfather was a gambler and alcoholic who abused his mother, with President Clinton earning his way through college on scholarships. Similarly, President Obama came from a broken home, mostly raised by his grandparents, putting himself through school. So, we have three presidents of practically speaking the same era, and one was born into privilege, while two came from very humble beginnings. The point is, tenacity can catch up with privilege in the end – but it takes work and vision and guts.

If we truly look at the backgrounds of our 42nd and 44th presidents, there’s tremendous inspiration in that. You don’t need to be of the birth right of the 43rd president – lineage of privilege and power – to be among the most successful people on Earth. Rather, you can come from the so-called bottom, never feel lower than anyone else, and chart a course of personal empowerment. No, you statistically won’t ever be the president, like Clinton or Obama, but think of what you can accomplish in the way of education, career, community, and family – there’s nothing holding you back.

And, you mustn’t let success stop with you. You must have a moral and ethical compass to help others. You don’t want to be smug and selfish, but kind and giving – a leader in action. You see ignorance on the Internet, in line at the grocery store, on cable news shows. You don’t want to be that guy. You want to have the backbone to lead others from despair, not create it. See, the ultimate form of success isn’t in just bettering your life, but bettering others, bettering the world around you as you rise.

Life is simple geography: regardless of where you start, you can go anywhere – just plot an extraordinary course and follow it unrelentingly.

Failing Greatly

By Mark E. Smith

Anyone who saw the movie, Apollo 13 – or never saw the film! – knows the iconic phrase, Failure isn’t an option.

Indeed, the phrase is inspirational and catchy, now part of our motivational lexicon. However, here’s what few know: Not only was the phrase a fictional creation for the film and book, but it was derived from the NASA Control Room philosophy that really meant that quitting was never an option.

See, the catch phrase was skewed from an interview where Apollo 13 flight controller, Jerry Bostick, said, “…When bad things happened, we just calmly laid out all the options, and failure was not one of them. We never panicked, and we never gave up on finding a solution.”

Truly, what Bostick expressed was that failures – or, in his words, “bad things” – occurred all of the time, but what the flight control team did was never quit, they never gave up on finding solutions. They wouldn’t accept a failure as an end-all.

That’s such a vital distinction: Failures are bound to occur in virtually all that we do. However, quitting in the face of them is not an option. In fact, among the greatest people and accomplishments have always been born from huge failures. Babe Ruth struck-out 1,330 times. Henry Ford went broke five times. Jack Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul manuscript was rejected by 140 publishers. James Dyson’s vacuum had 5,127 failed prototypes.

Of course, these catastrophic failures lead to among the greatest success stories in history. Babe Ruth, is arguably the greatest baseball player of all time. Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing and the automobile. Chicken Soup for the Soul has sold 130 million copies. And, the Dyson vacuum became a market leader, changing its industry.

As Confucius put it, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing but in rising every time we fail.” As Samuel Beckett put it, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” And, as President John F. Kennedy put it, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly.”

All of these great men – as well as all wise individuals – know that failure is part of the path to success. Learning always involves failure – it’s why students study, athletes practice, and businessmen develop. Failure is “practice making perfect.”

Now, I’ve outlined a few extraordinary examples of huge failures leading to astounding successes. However, failure – and how we address it – plays an even more important role in our personal, everyday lives. If we fail, and quit as a result, we lose everything, it’s game over. Yet, if like the greats that I’ve previously noted, if we fail, but keep striving, finding new approaches and solutions, learning and growing, we will ultimately succeed. No matter if it’s my two year-old niece who was frustrated by a baby gate, so she used her toy box as a ladder to climb over it, or my friend who went on over 30 job interviews before landing his dream job, both experienced failure after failure, but followed through with a tenacity to success.

As for me, my life remains one big failure. From my daily living skills, to my career, to my relationships, to my parenting, truly, there’s nothing that I haven’t failed at. Heck, I’m failing at this very writing as I create the first draft (by the time you read this essay, I will have failed with four or five drafts). But, I don’t give up, ever. There’s nothing too physically tough, too intellectually challenging, to financially burdensome, too emotionally harrowing for me to ultimately succeed at. Sure, again, I will – and have! – fail at many aspects of life, unquestionably many more times to come. But, failure doesn’t scare or deter me; rather, failure drives me to push harder. Through failures, I learn, I grow, I adapt, I change my approach, and eventually I succeed. I’m going to fail, but in that process, I know that I’m moving closer to success.

I don’t know what challenges – read that, failures – you’re facing in your life right now. However, try shifting your perspective to a mode where you see failures as direct paths toward success. Does it take perseverance? Yes. Does it take determination? Of course. Does it take patience? Sure. But, does it ultimately lead to success? Absolutely. After all, without failures, there is no success.