By Philip Humbert
This week, Mary and I watched “The Wilderness Years” video about Winston Churchill’s years as a “back bencher.” For ten years he suffered defeat after defeat. He was humiliated at the end of World War I, and spent the years that should have been the height of his career as a lonely outcast. He was defeated on “the India question.” He was on the wrong side when Edward abdicated the thrown. He was ridiculed for his views on Germany and the threat of war. He was broke and, at one point, nearly lost his home.
The strain tore at his family, and he struggled with the “black dog” of depression. The men in his family had a history of dying young and he feared that he, too, would die a failure and an outcast. He was 65 years old when he became Prime Minister.
I am convinced that much of the vigor, genius, stubbornness and resilience that made him such a magnificent leader came from those lonely years in the “wilderness.”
Too often, we forget the value of the “wilderness.”
We forget that Abraham Lincoln suffered defeat after defeat. He struggled with depression, poverty and ridicule. Ultimately, these experiences gave him the strength, and the vision, to become America’s greatest President.
Oprah Winfrey grew up in poverty. She was abused as a child. Personally, I am convinced that much of her appeal, and her power, comes from her ability to relate to ordinary people, particularly people who have suffered as she did.
Now obviously, suffering and rejection are not good things. We all want to avoid pain and no one wants to be an outsider.
What is interesting, however, is how we respond when hard times come our way.
Some people crumble. They become bitter and see the world as unfair. They view life as hard. They begin to think that they are “wrong” or flawed or unfit. At some level, they give up, or give in.
Others, however, hang tough. Like Churchill, they find reserves they never knew they had. They examine their beliefs and their strategies, adjusting where they can and must, and holding firm to the unchanging principles that guide their lives.
I would never wish adversity on anyone, and yet, without it, some of us will never know who we truly are. I love the quote from Nancy Reagan that “a woman is like a tea bag. You never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water.” I trust that applies to men as well.
Many TIPS readers have known, or are currently enduring, tough times and I hesitate to offer any easy advice. Tough times are tough! They are not fun and they are not easy, and cheap or flippant advice is merely insulting. But tough times also bring out the best in us.
Tough times force us to examine ourselves. They burn out our weaknesses and flaws, and if viewed correctly, tough times prepare us for the future. Tough times may make us stronger. Tough times can force us to grow or change in ways that good times allow us to ignore or cover up. Tough times force us to discover what we are made of.
When adversity comes, and it comes in some measure to each of us, do not “accept” it! Rail and fight against it! Resist with all that is in you! But do not resent it. Learn from it and use it to your advantage.