Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Persevering Through the Impossible

If you wish to succeed in life, make perseverance your bosom friend, experience your wise counsellor, caution your elder brother, and hope your guardian genius. - Joseph Addison

Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody. - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained. - Marie Curie

The #1206 “fiction” series continues …

Frank sat in his office and stared numbly at his laptop screen.  It was another long night, bringing to a conclusion another day where he had begun his day believing that this would be the day and yet as the day wound down, it was just as disappointing as the last time he believed that this day would be magical.  “I think that was yesterday”, he thought as he shook his head in sadness and frustration.

Sighing heavily, he closed his laptop, placed it in his backpack, turned off the office lights in silence, locked the office door and proceeded towards the elevator.  A minute later, he was walking down the street towards his car when he realized that he was probably too tired to drive home.  “Maybe a coffee first”, he thought as he stepped inside the coffee shop on the corner.

As he settled in with his coffee, he stared up at the TV screen in the corner.  He was so mentally numb that he couldn’t think of anything at all and so he stared at the screen in silence.

“What a world”, said a voice beside him and he looked down from the TV to see someone staring intently at him.

“No kidding”, Frank said, “I wonder when we will get things right in the world and live up to our potential.”

“An excellent observation”, the stranger acknowledged as the two men returned their gaze to the TV screen.

The stranger broke the silence a minute later when he turned to Frank and asked, “Why do you think that humans don’t live up to their potential?”

Frank was startled by the directness of the question and the reference to “humans” but he bit his lip in thought for a moment before replying, “Maybe it’s because they are spending more time running from what they fear rather than running towards what they desire and what they should be able to achieve with their strengths.  Maybe …. I’m not sure.”

“Very interesting answer”, said the stranger, “Do you know what your strengths are?”

“Of course”, replied Frank and he started to speak but then paused in thought.

“It seems you are not sure”, observed the stranger.

“Well”, protested Frank, “I do know what they are.  They are just hard to explain.”

“I believe Einstein once said ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough’”, said the stranger wryly, “Care to try again?  How about a different question?  Do you believe that you are you running from what you fear or towards what you desire?”

“Well”, said Frank hesitatingly, “I want to make money to take care of my employees and my family.”

“And why is that?”, asked the stranger, leaning in towards Frank and staring at him intently.

“Well”, said Frank somewhat testily, “It’s obvious.  It’s so that we don’t end up hungry or on the street, the same reason that everyone else works.”

“Hmmmmm”, said the stranger, “It seems then that you have your cause and effect mixed up.  I would suggest you are working more against your fear of poverty than towards your desire for wealth.”

Frank opened his mouth to protest, caught himself and closed it again.

“Things have been a struggle lately, haven’t they ,Frank?”, asked the stranger bluntly.

Frank frowned at the question but moments later found himself telling this complete stranger about his struggles in his Life, including in his business and in his personal Life.

“I pray every day for an end to this struggle”, he concluded, “But either God is not listening, he doesn’t care, he wants to punish me or he doesn’t exist.”

His eyes welled up as his voice fell silent.

“That is an interesting set of conclusions you are entertaining”, replied the stranger, “But have you ever considered that this struggle is for a reason?”

“How can this be for a reason?”, asked Frank as he wiped his eyes, “What in the name of God could be useful about this struggle?”

“Work with me for a moment”, replied the stranger as he smiled, “Imagine if I told you that this struggle was for a very important reason that is currently beyond your understanding but which someday you would come to know the truth as to why.”

Frank stared at the stranger but said nothing.

“Imagine”, continued the stranger, “That the whole reason for this struggle is to help you prepare for the next big event in your Life and that in order for you to be prepared for that event, it is important for you to learn lessons from your current struggle.”

“What kind of lessons?”, asked Frank quietly.

“Well”, replied the stranger, “Every struggle in Life teaches you many things in the areas of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and respect for a greater authority.  I would suggest to you that the majority of times you have made progress in any of these areas was when you were under pressure or duress as opposed to times when your Life was easy and free of stress.  However, most people, including yourself, learn very little during struggle and therefore you often find yourselves constantly struggling with the same things.  Before you protest, think about it and then tell me if this is true.”

Frank said nothing but bit his lip in thought as he replayed the significant growth points in his Life.  “The stranger is right”, he thought, “The times of greatest leaps in my Life came on the heels of great struggle.”

“Your silence tells me that you agree”, noted the stranger, “Now let’s bend your brain a little bit further.  There are some secrets for how you get through this difficulty and grow in the areas that I just mentioned.  Do you want to know what they are, Frank?”

“I do”, said Frank, “In fact, I really need to know.”

“Good”, smiled the stranger, “Here is what you need to do.  I will write them down on a napkin for you.”

The stranger wrote on a napkin and passed it to Frank.

Frank turned the napkin towards him and read:

As I make my way through my difficulty, I will strive to adhere to the virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance.

“Ok”, mumbled Frank, “That’s it?”

“There’s more”, replied the stranger as he passed Frank another napkin.

I will avoid the key sins of excessive pride, covetousness, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth.

“And yet a little more”, said the stranger as he passed Frank a third napkin.

As I serve my company, my family and my community, I will honor the attributes of charity, service, joy, peace, patience, compassion, goodness, humility, gentleness, kindness, modesty and honesty.

“And one final one”, said the stranger as he passed a fourth napkin to Frank.

In order to accomplish this, I will ask four questions every hour of every day:

  • Where should I go?
  • What should I do?
  • What should I say?
  • To whom should I say it?

Frank stared at the four napkins arranged before him for a moment before turning to the stranger.

“That’s all well and good and seems easy enough if you are not up to your neck in hell”, Frank said sharply, “But when you are in the thick of things, it’s not easy to live by such pithy philosophy.”

The stranger ignored the barb in Frank’s comment as he replied.  “Possibly”, mused the stranger, “But your problem is that you are trying to go it alone too much.  Carrying so much by yourself is, as I think you would put it, not very intelligent strategically or tactically”.

Frank felt the sting of his criticism of others being delivered back to him but he said nothing.

“Good”, said the stranger, “You have finally discovered the importance of listening instead of constantly disagreeing with what you are told.  The way I see it, you need to improve in one or more of three categories – numerical support, capability and timing.”

“What do you mean?”, asked Frank.

“Well”, said the stranger, “Let’s start with the category of numerical support. In your belief that you can do it all yourself, you rarely delegate tasks and you are often unable to effectively partner with others because you don’t see their value or their ability to contribute to your Life results.”

“Secondly”, he continued, “Your ego doesn’t allow you to see areas where you need to improve your capabilities or the capabilities of those around you and so obvious moments of knowledge acquisition and application are lost on all of you.  It is for this reason that your current experience may be taking longer than usual since you are not getting the obvious lesson buried within the current difficult experience, thereby forcing you to remain mired in the lesson that you struggle with.”

“And finally”, the stranger concluded, “You are not using time effectively, taking too long to accomplish some tasks while setting impossible, inappropriately short deadlines for others.  The former can be deadly and result in lost opportunities while the latter can result in stress-filled but poor results which also lead to lost opportunities as well as personal and professional burnout.”

Frank listened intently but said nothing.

“Ahhhhh”, said the stranger as he smiled, “I like a student who listens.  Here’s the challenge with all of these things.  If you find the right duration for a task, setting an appropriate deadline without rushing things while executing intelligently in the process, you often allow the Universe to line up things for you for a greater result.  The catch is that you can’t wait too long as extending the duration beyond that which the task requires can cause others to harvest your opportunities or cause you to diminish your result as you exhaust your resources, whether it be time, energy or money.  Taking too long may also expose vulnerabilities in your execution or capability that someone else may take advantage of, so you need to be careful.”

“In addition”, said the stranger, “"Executing quickly but intelligently and with the element of strategic and tactical surprise may enhance your capability, reduce the risks associated with extended duration and equalize any inferiority of odds when compared to the potential of others.”

“I don’t understand”, said Frank.

“Ah yes, that is a little academic”, the stranger said patiently as if anticipating the question, “Here’s an example.  Let’s say you are confronted one night by three men in a dark alley.  With three to one odds, their numerical superiority places you at great risk.  Your risk is minimized or removed if your numerical support is enhanced by having additional companions with you or, even if you are alone, your capabilities are enhanced with the possession of martial arts experience or a weapon.”

“Now”, said the stranger, “As you can see, lack of numerical support and capability inferiority can be overcome to help you beat impossible odds.  Now let’s think about time.  If you take the time to quickly but intelligently assess the situation without panicking, you might notice an escape route and use it to run to safety.  However, if you rush into an altercation, you will miss this discovery.  Conversely, if you decide after some deliberation but without searching for an intelligent solution to your problem that you will fight these protagonists toe to toe, even if you fight valiantly, eventually their numerical odds will wear you out and you will be defeated.  Intelligence and timing in strategic and tactical execution make all the difference.”

“I guess what I am trying to say”, concluded the stranger, “Is that trouble and difficulty like what you are facing force people like yourself to learn and apply gifts, strengths, talents and knowledge that they wouldn’t have learned if their Life was filled with comfort and in fact, such difficulty possibly helps people to identify strengths that they probably aren’t even aware of.  You are in the process of either discovering new strengths or discovering new ways to apply existing strengths.  Both are essential to your future success.  However, remember this.  There is always someone looking out for you regardless of whether you believe this or not.”

Frank’s mind reeled as he absorbed what the stranger said, noting how the stranger put emphasis on the words “always someone”.

“Don’t try to digest this all at once”, said the stranger, “Sleep on it and see how you feel in the morning.”

The stranger stood up to leave and offered his hand to Frank.  “My name is Gabriel, by the way”, he said, “I hope I have somehow given you something to think about that might be helpful for your current struggle.”

Frank accepted the proffered hand and said “Thank you, Gabriel.  You have given me a lot to think about.  And my name is Frank.”

“I know”, said Gabriel as he smiled.  He gestured to the napkins on the table.  “It is really important that you memorize those”, he said, “so that they become part of your core personal belief structure.”

He turned to walk away, hesitated and turned back towards Frank.  “I mean that – memorize them”, he said seriously, turned again and walked out the door.

Frank watched him walk away and then sat for about an hour reflecting on what the stranger had said before gathering up the napkins and heading out into the night to return home.

An hour later, he found himself excitedly telling his wife about his encounter with the stranger.  “And as proof”, he said to his incredulous wife, “Here are the napkins he wrote on.”

He pulled the napkins from his pocket only to discover in dismay that they were all blank.

“I don’t understand”, he stammered as he stared at the napkins.

And then something struck him and as it did so, he turned towards his wife.

“Do you know what the weird thing is?”, he asked her, “He knew my name before I told him what it was.”

They stared at each other in silence.

To be continued.

© 2015 – Harry Tucker – All Rights Reserved


This story is loosely based on a true story.  Frank, upon reading this story, will instantly recognize himself.

Gabriel represents anyone who comes into our Lives and says or does something that becomes the moment that, upon reflection, we recognize as the person and event that turned our Life around.

I’ve been musing about this content in a mind map series I call the “Dots Project”.  Various iterations of this mind map can be found here.

Truth be told, I know many “Franks”.

I also know many “Gabriels”.

Maybe you are one or both of them.

I know that I have been both of them at different times in my Life.

It is normal to be like Frank, lost and overwhelmed and unable to see “the forest for the trees”. Offering Frank an attaboy or a pithy platitude will damage the person more than it will help them as I noted in the blog posts Drive-By Platitudes–Life Saving or Life Draining and Miracles–Praying For Them Or Being Them.

That’s why it is important that if you have the ability to play the role of Gabriel, that it is important that you do so.

When the opportunity presents itself, and it will, you will know why.

And to all the Franks (and Frankettes), hold on – Gabriel (or Gabrielle) is on the way, whether you believe it or not.

Series Origin

This series, a departure from my usual musings, is inspired as a result of conversations with former senior advisors to multiple Presidents of the United States, senior officers in the US Military and other interesting folks as well as my own professional background as a Wall St. / Fortune 25 strategy and large-scale technology architect.

While this musing is just “fiction” and a departure from my musings on technology, strategy, politics and society, as a strategy guy, I do everything for a reason and with a measurable outcome in mind. :-)

This “fictional” musing is a continuation of the #1206 series noted here.

No comments:

Post a Comment