Your Biggest Weakness could be your Greatest Strength
"You can still have a good life."
She looked at me with genuine compassion.
I looked back at her with fury.
"A good life!?"
For some reason, her well-meant words – the honest attempt of giving me hope – made me really irritated.
We were sitting in my new apartment, in the home that I never thought I would ever have. She – the nurse on my treatment team – was sitting in the armchair, and I was sitting in the window sill. For the last hour, I had been emptying my heart in despair, talking about how empty I felt, how hopeless everything was and how tired I was of being sick.
Her response – excuse the language – pissed me off.
What she really was saying was "there is hope, don't give up". Fair enough.
But what I heard was "you can live a good life, in spite of your illness".
To me, this meant two things, both of which made anger bottle up inside of me:
(1) I would have to settle for "good", and
(2) that my (mental) illness was the reason why my life could never be a great one.
The reason why I reacted so intensely to this didn't really dawn on me until last week when I was sitting in a hotel room in Utah, preparing for a speaking engagement. I got angry because –
I don't believe in a good life DESPITE of adversity – be it mental illness, trauma, disability, poverty, physical illness or anything else.
I believe in greatness BECAUSE of it.
It's a small shift in thinking that can have a huge impact on how you live your life. It shifts you from a perspective of struggle – where you constantly have to fight against your circumstance – to one of ease. Instead of fighting against yourself, your illness, your circumstance – you can flow with it.
Your circumstance then – the adversity that you have been (and may still be) going through – isn't something that prohibits your greatness, but something that enhances it.
Once you make this connection, it really will set you free. Realizing that the hard time you are going through is there to push you into your greatness means that you don't have to make it go away. It's not there to hurt or inhibit you. It's there to help you.
This doesn't mean that you should stop getting better, stop working your way through it, stop doing everything in your power to move forward. It just means that you can do it from a place of peace. From a place of love and intention. You are not a victim, you have the power.
It's important to keep in mind, however, that greatness isn't the automatic result of adversity. But it can be.
So what makes up the difference between those who are empowered and those who end up crippled? It's easy to argue that those people – the ones with terminal cancer who win marathons when pushing their daughters in strollers – you know, those people, are different than us.
It's easy to think that those people – the ones who go from homeless to Harvard – have something that we don't.
And I can understand why you think that those people – the ones who are born with no arms and legs who still surf and golf and speak to thousands of people about not giving up – that those people can do it, "but I can't".
Here is the thing. Those people are just people. Like you.
They are people faced with challenges. Just like you.
However, I think that those who do use their challenges as stepping stones and become supersurvivors really do some things differently:
They believe that they can
What separate those who do impossible things from those who "just" survive is that they believe that they can. Most of all, they believe that they are one of "those people" or that "those people" don't really exist at all. Believe that you can achieve greatness and you are almost halfway there.
They don't use their story as an excuse
Those who do great things while and after being faced with tremendous challenge have another thing in common: They don't hide behind their challenges. The terminally ill person could easily have excused himself and told everyone (and himself) that he couldn't run. The homeless girl could easily have dropped out of high school. And the man without arms and legs could very simply have told himself that golfing/swimming/running is impossible. But they didn't.
They focus on the BECAUSE
Those who manage to use trauma and pain to transform their lives and achieve greatness don't try to hide their stories. Instead, they amplify it. They ask themselves what is my unique skill because of what I have been through? How does my illness/situation give me an advantage? What can I do better because of my story?
They focus on what they can do, not what they can't do
It's a little step for the mind, but a huge step for humanity. The people who make it focus on what they can do, instead of what they can't. This can be a really simple little shift in thinking and seeing the world that changes the whole game.
They don't settle for less
The magic lies in aiming high and firing even higher. Those who achieve greatness because of adversity know that they have unique talents, and that they don't have to be satisfied with average or good enough. The ones who make it are the ones who take it – to the next level.
They don't see themselves as different
We might think they are superhumans, but if you get to know them you are likely to meet the most ordinary and down-to-earth people. The strength of those who use their struggle as superpowers lies in neither letting themselves be reduced by it – nor see their achievements as something that makes them better than others. They simply see themselves as the same as everybody else. Simple as that.
They don't give up
Most importantly, those who excel are the ones who don't give up. Don't give up. Don't give up. It's a decision that has to be made over and over again. Maybe every day, maybe several times a day.
Not giving up is to success what breathing is to living. Essential.
The most common way of looking at these people's stories, however, is to think that they really made it despite of what they have been through. We look at them with admiration and think that they really made it, even though they started out in a really difficult position.
Maybe then, we think that that we too can do it. If they can, so can we. But most likely, we will think that there is no way in hell that we can do what they did. Because we are not strong, or talented or inspiring, like them.
I wonder, though, if there is a different way of looking at it.
What if these people didn't make it despite their challenges, but because of them?
When you face a difficult situation, you grow in ways that are just not possible if life was easy. You learn things about yourself, about the world, which gives you a very unique perspective on life – as well as very unique skills.
Maybe these people would have been successful without their struggles. But maybe not. Maybe they would have been living good lives. Or maybe they would have found a different way to express and use their uniqueness and abilities. Who knows?
But what if what really made them excel is the very struggle that they were and had been facing? What if what made them succeed is the strengths and skills that they learned from their pain and challenge?
We we will never know for sure what could have been, but we can know this:
What greatness can you achieve if you start believing that you can? How can you use the unique gifts that your struggle has given you? How can you go from good to great? In what way can you shift your thinking from despite to because?
What if your biggest weakness really could be your greatest strength?
The questions really boils dow to this:
What kind of life do you want to live?
If it wasn't for my illness, I would most likely have been a lawyer in a big firm right now, slaving away writing letters and appeals. Maybe I would have found a way to make it meaningful to me, to change the world one case at the time.
However, if it wasn't for my illness, I probably wouldn't be writing this blog – reaching millions of people a year. I probably wouldn't have become a life coach – and definitely not a good one. I probably wouldn't be flying across the world hosting workshops and speaking about life. And I would most likely not have the same awareness, the insight, the wisdom, the empathy, the resilience and the strength.
When we ended our conversation and I closed the door after her, the pain has subsided and been replaced with a confusing anger that I did not really understand.
One thing I knew, however, was that I didn't want to live merely a good life.
I want greatness, I want health, I want vitality and I want strength.
Only later, in a hotel room in Utah, did I understand what that would look like for me.
I want to use all the little details, the nuances, the wisdom and everything within my power to tell my story and to show that we – the mentally ill, the victims of bullying, the poor, the sick, the troubled and all the souls that once have been lost – that we don't have to succeed despite anything.
In fact, we are just like everybody else. We have skills, we have wisdom and we have talents. We neither have a better starting point, or a worse one – so please don't neither talk us down or put us on a pedestal.
Most of all, though, I want my life to be living proof of endless possibility.
This, I know, is where my greatness can be achieved.
Not despite of the challenges I have faced,
but because of them.