I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath recently, and he makes an interesting argument: some things that we assume are disadvantages end up being just the opposite.
Here are two examples:
- Dyslexia. Dyslexia makes reading extremely difficult and can lead to low self-esteem or depression because school becomes so challenging. And yet, as many as a third of extremely successful entrepreneurs are dyslexic. This group includes billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, brokerage firm founder Charles Schwab, and JetBlue founder David Neeleman, according to a study by Julie Logan at City University London.
- Losing a parent as a child. Again, losing a parent as a child is a traumatic experience with far-reaching consequences. And yet, twelve of the first forty-four US presidents lost their fathers when they were young — that’s more than 25%! A study of British Prime Ministers found that 67% of Prime Ministers between the beginning of the 19th century and the start of WWII had lost at least one parent before the age of sixteen – more than twice the rate of parental loss of the general upper class population that these men came from.
Gladwell’s argument isn’t that anyone would wish for these traits. On the contrary, they make life much harder and many people don’t “rise above them.”
And yet, he argues that sometimes these things that we are stuck with turn out to be an astonishing source of strength. The successful entrepreneurs who battled dyslexia learned how to be determined and get comfortable with failure, which helped them to take risks and work hard. Losing a parent as a child showed others that they could survive terrible loss, which made them more courageous and mentally strong.
Can you tell where I’m going with this?
Look, I don’t want to oversimplify Gladwell’s argument. It’s too easy to say, “you should make every source of pain a learning experience!” Sometimes pain and obstacles are just too great.
But, if you’ll let me, I’d like us to be curious together. Is it possible that you have something in your life that is really painful or frustrating or hard…and that the process of learning to battle challenge or obstacle could teach you some of the most important lessons of your life?
I know that’s true for me.
Consider my relationship with food. It was a huge source of pain. So much suffering and frustration went into worrying about what I was going to eat or what I did eat. I didn't feel in control and sometimes I felt downright crazy.
And yet, the process of figuring out how to stop suffering so much…it changed everything.
Not “everything” as in “everything about how I ate” — though it certainly did that.
I mean “everything” as in “everything about how I lived.”
I often describe my before and after as the difference between living my life in black-and-white, and living my life in color. The skills that allowed me to figure out my relationship with food also completely changed how I made decisions and how I related to and communicated with other people. It radically increased the depth of my knowledge about myself, and made me more compassionate, more spiritual, more authentic, and more sensitive (more on that here). It taught me how to sit in the middle of fear and uncertainty in a way that I hadn’t before.
The point is: I wouldn’t wish an unhappy relationship with food or body image on anyone. But also, the process of battling this painful challenge was, hands down, one of the most useful and transformational experiences of my life.
Of course, the juicy question is: how do we go from suffering to allowing that suffering to teach us what we need to know about life?
That’s too great a question to be answered now, but there are many ways. You can certainly do a lot of this work on your own, or by working with a coach or therapist.
But, if you are also someone who struggles with food or body image, one powerful option is to join a Dessert Club.
Dessert Clubs are 8-week, small-group classes focused on untangling the “why” and “what can we do about it” behind our eating. We meet in a cozy video-conference, so it feels like being in the same room even though we may be across countries or continents. Together, we ask hard questions, laugh and occasionally cry, and take action.
I won’t be offering another round of Dessert Clubs until 2019, so if this is a type of support you’d like, this could be a good time to join. Here’s some information on the two that start in July:
Tuesdays, starting July 10
11 am PST/2 pm EST/7 pm BST
Tuesdays, starting July 10
5 pm PST/8 pm EST
As always, I’m wishing you strength + support for the week ahead. You’ve got this.
p.s. If you’d like to read them, the studies I cite here are on pages 106 (dyslexia) and 141-142 (losing a parent in childhood) of the paperback edition of David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants.