During the early years of World War II, German submarines, operating in wolf packs, stalked the frigid waters of the North Atlantic with near impunity, sinking an alarming number of British military and merchant ships. Hitler was confident that his U-boats could blockade England and eventually starve the British people into submission.
The Wisdom of Old Sailors
In the summer of 1940, while the Battle of Britain was being savagely waged in the skies over England’s cities, the Germans also sank over 300 British military and merchant ships. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, fearing the negative impact these devastating losses might have on the nation’s morale, ordered the information withheld from the public. In an effort to reduce the appalling number of casualties lost at sea, Churchill instructed the British Royal Navy to begin a study to determine what, if anything, could be done to save more lives during sea rescue.
While interviewing the survivors an interesting discovery was made. To their complete astonishment, the researchers noted that the survival rate for the younger, presumably more physically fit sailors was remarkably lower when compared to their older shipmates. The study concluded that the older sailors had a significantly higher survival rate. Why? They had overcome more adversity, and therefore, had developed greater confidence in being rescued than the younger, less experienced sailors.
The head of the research project, Kurt Hahn, was so moved by this discovery that he created the Outward Bound program. Hahn designed the Outward Bound program, utilizing a series of progressively rugged challenges, to mentally and physically prepare young British sailors to cope with the adversity of naval combat. Today, the Outward Bound program works with troubled youth to help them develop greater confidence and self-image.
The Leadership of Winston Churchill
Let’s take another lesson from the same time and place: In the fall of 1940, with tons of English shipping at the bottom of the Atlantic, thousands of sailors lost, and the seemingly unstoppable Wehrmacht having overrun all of Europe and routed the large French Army just months earlier, Winston Churchill may well have been tempted to give up, to step down and let someone else do the impossible. After all, Britain was nearly alone in the world. The U.S. had not entered the war, and thousands were perishing in German air raids that were flattening entire towns.
Churchill didn’t give up: He stuck it out – and made the following vow to his people:
Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
In the end, Churchill, the British people, and the free world prevailed. But only through unflagging courage in the darkest of times.
Not All Are Equal
Consider an analogy: If you place a carrot, an egg and a coffee bean into a pot of boiling water, each reacts in a completely different manner to the conditions. The carrot goes into the boiling water firm and comes out soft; the egg goes in fragile and comes out hardened; and the coffee bean turns the hot water into coffee by releasing its flavor and aroma!
I find it interesting that people faced with similar adversity often experience remarkably different outcomes. Some people become weak, some become hardened, and some become strong.
Selling in challenging times demands determination and personal fortitude. Having the will to persevere when times are tough is a characteristic commonly found among self-made millionaires. Are you a quitter? The last time you failed, did you stop trying because you failed, or did you fail because you stopped trying?
Thomas Edison documented 10,000 failed attempts to develop the electric light bulb. A reporter asked the great inventor how it felt to have failed 10,000 times trying to invent the light bulb. Edison responded, “Young man, I didn’t fail 10,000 times trying to invent the light bulb, I simply documented 10,000 ways that it wouldn’t work.” Imagine how different our world would be today if Edison had been a quitter.
How can you stay self-motivated and productive in the midst of turbulent times and a sluggish economy? How do you persevere as a salesperson when times are tough and customers seem to be holding on to every penny in fear of economic uncertainty?
Every challenge, setback and personal difficulty you encounter in life also brings with it the seed of equivalent or greater benefit! The key to overcoming adversity is to avoid the temptation to panic. Instead, focus on finding the greater benefit. Adversity will never leave you where it found you; it will either strengthen your character or weaken your resolve.
You must expect to encounter detours, roadblocks and potholes of adversity along the road of life. The next time you are faced with adversity, learn from it and know that you are becoming a much stronger person because of it!