On one summer night in 1981, I was visiting family in Jacksonville, NC. I was just 11 years old and some other kids and I were preparing to go to the movies and see the highly anticipated Superman II sequel, starring Christopher Reeves. I can still remember the fun and excitement we enjoyed all day, knowing that evening held the reward of watching the Man of Steel on the big screen again. Electricity filled the air as we piled out of the cars and took our place in line for tickets. When we reached the box office, we were devastated to learn the movie was sold out! In the blink of an eye, all the fun was sucked out of the air and replaced with crippling disappointment. How could it be? Why us! It’s not fair! No Superman?
We had all created this tremendous expectation in our heads of how the evening would be, full of cinematic excitement and joy. Once the whining stopped and reality set in, the order of business became what to watch instead. Pickings were slim and all we could agree on was some movie we had never heard of called “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. It sounded boring to our despondent and adolescent ears, but we bought tickets and took our seats. Little did we know, it would turn out to be one of the best movies we had ever seen, a total masterpiece! We were captivated from the opening scene of this epic film and soon we were even more fulfilled than we expected. There is no debate, Raiders of the Lost Ark remains a very popular film even 40 years later and is often considered one the greatest films ever made.
But, what does this have to do with anything? Well, it was one of my first big lessons on how good things can happen out of bad situations. You know, overcoming adversity…the light at the end of the tunnel…the silver lining…one door closes, and another opens. To this day, that situation remains a vivid reminder to me whenever I’m beset with troubles or disappointment sets in. Over the next 40 years, the lesson would continually repeat itself. Bad things would happen, but there always seemed to be an opportunity within the discouraging circumstance or even a positive outcome. That doesn’t mean you will benefit automatically, sometimes you have to be looking for it or maybe you have to be patient enough to realize the long-term growth. However, my mindset would continue to refine with each setback or “earth-shattering” event until I realized the real lesson. It was inside failure and disappointment where hyper-personal growth took place. These bad things made me better, stronger, smarter, and more insightful. My perspective became that regardless of how crappy the turn of events was, be it a loss, a failure, or disappointment, I just needed to be on the lookout for the hidden opportunity, the real win. And above all, don’t worry or stress too much. This can be easier said than done, and I’m not worry-free by any means. But, this became a mindset that helped armor me for future obstacles or challenges and helped me mitigate that worry and stress. You see, if you become conditioned to believe that potential opportunity will be there, or that you will be fine, these hard times don’t seem as scary anymore. I’ve always said, “They can’t take away your birthday”.
Stoic philosophers teach that you cannot control the forces of nature or people’s actions, but you can only control your reaction to these things. If you can adopt this philosophy, you will likely be more resilient and less inclined to be stressed over impending doom, real or imagined. This is not to say sit back and let destiny have full control of the steering wheel. No, you still need to help cultivate the environment for those good tidings to work their magic. This mindset served me well in moving beyond tragedies and adversity experienced as a cop, during war, jobs, relationships, and just day to day obstacles. This is not to say I don’t hit my own valleys, I do. After all, any advice contained herein is also a constant self-reminder.
One wonderful experience I have had that was born out of tremendous tragedy was the good fortune to know a handful of wounded veterans, who would go on to conquer the highest summits in the world. When I started my company MissionX, my business partner, legendary mountain climber Harry Taylor, introduced me to these men who were missing limbs or suffered from incredible injuries. Most of them spent upwards of a year in the hospital after receiving their combat injuries. These men taught me lessons on overcoming adversity that took my understanding of hyper-growth to another level. Despite debilitating injuries, these guys developed themselves into olympic-caliber athletes! Knowing them and experiencing their own journey has been a privilege. They are still on their quest to summit the highest peak of every continent and trek to the North and South Poles, a feat known as the “Grand Slam”. They are almost finished! You can learn more about them at www.adaptivegrandslam.com.
So, I continually remind myself that disappointment is not a dead end. After all, it’s amazing how the sands can shift back in your favor.
Before we end, you may be wondering, did I ever get to see Superman II? I did, and it was so-so at best. But more interesting was actually working with the modern-day Superman, actor Henry Cavill, while I was the military technical advisor for the Netflix movie, “Sandcastle”. So, head up and shoulders back, your next great adventure may be waiting for you inside that challenge you’re dealing with.