Good, bad, by choice -- challenges encourage us to succeed

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Jon Welch
  • 71st Medical Support Squadron
Alfred Wallace was a famous botanist of the late 1800s.
One day he was observing a butterfly struggling to get out of its cocoon. He was curious to know what effect he would have on the butterfly if he helped in its exit.
With a sharp knife, Dr. Wallace carefully made an incision the length of the cocoon, allowing the butterfly to quickly and easily escape. Once emerged, the butterfly spread its wings and immediately died. Because the butterfly didn't have to struggle to get out of its cocoon, it didn't have the strength necessary to survive. Just as struggling to emerge from its cocoon strengthened the butterfly, so too can challenges in life help us to become more resilient, better people.
We all face challenges in life, and they come to us in many forms. Many represent changes we have to deal with -- a change of station, a new boss, retirement, etc. Some challenges we seek and consider a good thing, such as a promotion at work. Others we try to avoid. Some challenges are individual, while others are common to an organization or group of people. Challenges can be physical, such as dealing with injury, illness or disability. They can be financial or involve personal relationships. Challenges can be as life-threatening and dramatic as a fight with cancer, or as simple as confronting a situation that requires you to move outside your comfort zone.
While not all challenges are ones that we would choose, where would we be without them? Challenges make life more interesting and allow us to achieve our potential, to become something extraordinary. Although we can't always control the forces that bring challenges to us, we can determine how we will react. When faced with a challenge that seems overwhelming, it's important to keep things in perspective. Looking at a challenge in the larger picture of your whole life will make it less daunting. Consider that when you stand very close to a large object, all you can see is the object. Only by stepping back from it can you also see the setting around it. When we face major challenges, we need to step back, look at the big picture and put things in perspective.
At a conference I attended a few years ago in Chicago, I listened to a motivational speaker who was an outstanding example of someone that met challenges with a positive, persistent attitude. The speaker's name was Bonnie St. John Deane. Bonnie was born with a birth defect that resulted in the loss of a leg at the age of five. While she had a loving mother, her stepfather was very abusive.
Despite these challenges in her life, she went on to overcome obstacles and achieve her dreams. She became a Paralympics ski medalist, a Harvard honors graduate, a Rhodes scholar, a successful writer, and the head of her own speaking, writing and consulting firm. She was appointed by former President William Clinton during his first term as a director for human capital issues on the National Economic Council in the White House. She is a wife and mother. One of her sayings is "People fall down, winners get up. Gold medal winners get up the fastest."
This saying refers to the downhill ski race in which several of the leaders, including herself, fell at the end of the course but still managed to get up and win a medal.
"I was a faster skier down the slalom than the person who won the medal," she said. "She fell down just like I did. But I must have spent just a millisecond feeling bad that I had fallen. She got up faster than I did, and that made the difference."
When faced with a challenge, Bonnie did not listen to those that told her she couldn't do it. With determination and persistence, she pressed on and proved them wrong! What challenges do you face in this new year? What challenges confront your duty section or unit? Whatever challenges may confront us, we need to recognize them as necessary steps in personal, professional and even organizational development.
In the words of another, "Kites rise against, not with the wind -- no man ever worked his passage anywhere in a dead calm." As we recognize the benefit of challenges in our lives, keep them in perspective and embrace them with a positive, persistent attitude -- they will propel us to greater heights.