We Must Always Learn AND GROW Through Life's Adversities
You are the measure of conquered adversities
This is the season of sharing life's lessons as we enjoy the holiday with family and friends. If you have any inspirational stories or accounts send them to firstname.lastname@example.org Hope you enjoyed columnist Wattree's account.
I've been through all manner of hardship, and I've found that we often suffer needlessly over minor adversities. We should never agonize over minor setbacks or disappointments.
As long as you and the ones you love have your health and well being, everything else in life is transitory and insignificant. Much like physical pain, adversity merely serves the purpose of alerting us that corrective action is necessary.
When I look back over my life, I now see that many of things that I thought were horrible at the time, had to happen in order for something that would have a positive impact on my life to take place.
Thus, thinking that we can control every aspect of our lives is a myth. We only have limited control over our lives. Life plays itself out in the way that life plays itself out, and our control over it is limited to making the right decisions once unforeseeable events take place, good, bad. So all we can do in life is to prepare ourselves to make the right decisions when we’re confronted with adversity, and take advantage of opportunities when opportunity presents itself. Many unforeseeable things are simply going to happen, and the course of our lives are determined by how we deal with them when they do.
A perfect example of that is when I was exposed to drugs as a kid. My mother thought that was the most horrible thing that could ever happen in life. But her control over the situation was limited, because young people being exposed to drugs is a fact of life in the inner city. But she had done her part to help me face that challenge when she raised me, so even as I was using drugs, I knew it was stupid. But drugs did control my life long enough to cause me to go to my mother’s office begging for money when I was 16 years old. That’s where I met my late wife, Val, who my mother had hired as a young girl to address Christmas cards to the patients, and we made an immediate connection.
So the time had come for me to face my first major bout with adversity, but it was a moment that my mother had already prepared me for. So little did I know when I walked through the door of that office to con my mother out of some money to get high, that due to the foundation that my mother had laid when she raised me regarding the horrors of drugs and a man’s responsibility to a woman, combined with the young man I saw reflected in this young girl’s eyes when she looked at me, that I was walking out of one life, and into another. While I had no idea at the time, at that very moment the trajectory of my life had changed.
While my exposure to, and use of drugs, was undoubtedly one of the adversities faced by many young people as a result of inner city life, the combined influence of the foundation my mother had laid for me, and the passion that I felt for this young girl, who would later become my wife, placed me in good stead to face my very first challenge in life -- finding the strength to face down adversity, and the wisdom to seize the opportunity that life presented in its stead.
The challenges of adversity invariably come hand-in-hand with the rewards of opportunity and growth, and one’s fate is invariably tied to whether one collapses in the face adversity, or can conjure up the strength and presence of mind to embrace the opportunity that comes along with it. Then, if one can manage to conjure up the strength and good sense to embrace the opportunity and growth, that strength and presence of mind will remain theirs forever. So we become stronger, and wiser, with each challenge or adversity that we overcome.
For that reason, I raised my children not to agonize over adversity. While no one welcomes adversity, when it does come into one’s life, it should be viewed as an opportunity for growth, because there’s nothing more formidable than an individual whose been dragged through the pits of Hell and then manages to come out the other side as a well-adjusted and knowledgeable adult. That’s why I take great pride in referring to myself as a hood rat. Some people tell me that I’m denigrating myself, but I wear the title with great pride, because it says I that have a Ph.D. I'm a Doctor of Adversity, and no institution of higher learning can confer a more prestigious, or learned degree.
And the challenges of adversity continue throughout one’s life. No matter who you are, how old you are, or your status in society, life is going to continue to present you with a series of challenges and opportunities, and your fate will be directly tied to how you address those issues. This is how and why we become wiser with age.
My next challenge came after Val and I were married and had two small children. I was laid off of my job unjustly. I was an Assistant Warehouse manager for a nationally known furniture and mattress company, and I was one of only two Blacks with the company. The other was an older gentleman, and a master upholsterer. So when the company had a minor business reversal, instead of laying off someone with lesser seniority, they decided to lay me off. At the time, I was devastated and hurt. I thought I had a future with that company, so not only was I devastated because my young family and I were already struggling, I was also hurt over the gross injustice and blatant racism that led to my layoff. It was the first time that I had ever come face-to-face with raw and unvarnished racism.
I was 23 years old, married less than three years, and already had two children, so I was in a panic, because it was my first real challenge as a new father and the head of a household. So I went out looking for another job - on foot, because the economy was slow, so I decided to go from one company to the next, therefore, I didn’t need a car. I decided upon a strategy of selecting one block each day in the industrial section of the city, and then go from one business to the next until I either found a job, or the day came to an end. I covered several miles a day for weeks, with no luck. I’ve only since found that a study showed that a White man with a felony conviction stands a better than equal chance of being hired on a job than a Black man with a clean record - and it must have been much worse back then.
But one night while watching television I saw a commercial by the Army. They were trying to recruit new enlistees, and it mentioned the V.A. benefits that were afforded veterans. So being a Marine Corps vet, I decided to try checking into school again to take advantage of my veterans benefits. I had checked into school immediately after I was discharged, but the benefits took so long to be processed that I ended up having to dropout and go find the job from which I had just been laid off. But this time the benefits started almost immediately, and they were great at the time. Even though my wife was working, I could have supported the family by myself on my benefits alone.
Then shortly after I began school, my old job contacted me requesting that I return to work. But of course, I told them that I wasn’t interested. I thought that would be the end of the matter, but two weeks later they called again, and asked me would I come and meet with them. Through pure curiosity over their chutzpah, and to see why all of a sudden they were so interested in having me return (along with the opportunity it presented for me to tell them to shove it in person), I agreed.
It turned out that their deliveries were backed up to nearly the week that I’d been laid off. I didn’t even recognize the warehouse - it was overflowing with undelivered merchandise. My primary job was selecting merchandise to be loaded onto the trucks for delivery every morning. The company had a catalogue of the types, models, and various colors and fabrics of the furniture they produced, but having to look through the catalogue for everything before having it loaded onto the trucks was extremely time consuming. In addition, there were very small variations in the color and styles of various items that had to be recognized to insure the right product was delivered.
I had memorized the catalogue and every item that they produced, so that expedited delivery. It also prevented customer frustration and the costly necessity of redelivery. It seemed that the manager, who was now doing my job, obviously hadn’t taken the time to do that. When I was doing the job the crew was always ahead of schedule, so after I had them prepare merchandise for the next day’s deliveries, we spent a lot of the afternoon just sitting around, with the exception of doing will calls and stocking merchandise. Perhaps that’s why the company thought I was expendable.
I had already told my immediate boss (the manager) and the head of the department that I wasn’t interested in returning to work when I spoke with them over the phone, so my meeting was scheduled with the Vice President of Operations - go figure it; little old me meeting with a man who wouldn’t even bother to say good morning when I was working there. But as soon as I walked into his office and sat down he said: "Let’s get right to it. Do you have another job?"
I made it a point not to tell him what was going on in my life, or about my returning to school, because a good rule of thumb in life is to always make sure that you have more information than the other person when involved in a serious discussion.
So for the benefit of future employees, I decided to base my refusal on principle. So I told him, no, I don’t have another job. He then asked, "Then why don’t you want to return to work?"
I told him that I didn’t want to return because of how unfairly I was treated when I was laid off. Without once mentioning race --I didn’t think I had to-- I pointed out that all of the people who were working under me are still down there working, yet, I was laid off, and I didn’t think that was fair.
He told me that he agreed, and if I returned to work he would find out whose decision it was to lay me off and he would see to it that they paid a price for that decision. In response, I told him that I wasn’t interested in retribution: "I was a loyal employee, and I took great pride in the company. I expected the same in return, but I didn't get that. The company made it clear that I wasn’t appreciated, so in spite of any hardship that I might have to endure, I’ve decided not to return."
To that he said, "You can’t be serious. Don’t you have a family? It’s rough in this economy without a job. I’ll tell you what. I don’t want our company to be responsible for any hardship for you and your family, and somebody in this company is responsible for your being treated unfairly. So here’s what I’ll do - first, I want to apologize on behalf of the company; in addition, I will give you a raise and a promotion to manager; and I will also see to it that whoever made the decision to lay you off pays a severe price."
To which I said, I accept your apology and I appreciate your offer, but no thank you. I feel that I have to move on. Then I stood up and held out my hand.
As I was leaving he said, "Well, maybe you’ll change you’re mind later. If you do, I will stand behind my offer." I thanked him again, and left.
Again, when those people first laid me off, it devastated me. I thought my entire world was coming to an end. But as it turned out, what I thought was a horrible event, was simply a moment of adversity that I had to endure in order to gain an opportunity to change the direction of my life. If it were not for that adversity, I probably never would have gotten an education, and I’d still be there working in their warehouse for chump change.
So adversity should never look upon as something bad. It’s simply inconvenient. One should always view adversity as one of life’s challenges, and an opportunity for growth. Because adversity makes us stronger and wiser, and we wouldn’t grow without it.
Body builders have such muscular bodies due to the adversity of repeatedly lifting heavy weight against the pull of gravity, and the only reason we even learn to walk and talk is because as babies we had to deal with the adversity of not being able to get around and tell people what we wanted.
And finally, chances are, the only reason that President Obama is President of the United States is due to the tools that he had to cultivate in order to deal with the adversity of always being an outsider throughout his formative years. So while adversity may hurt for a moment, if handled properly, in the long run it makes us more, rather than less.
The Hood Rat
I’m sure you know that I love you;
You’re everything that I need.
You fit the bill of all my desires,
a perfect match for all of my dreams.
You’re everything I’ve always craved,
that luscious vision from across the tracks;
that delicate flower,
just beyond my grasp, and
now here you are at last.
But what you ask is foreign to me;
You need something that I'm not.
You said, if I'd tweak my nature, just a bit,
you’ll give everything you’ve got.
But that "tweak" you need is who I am;
It's my essence, can't you see?
You want to abolish the hood rat from my life,
the very thing that makes me, me.
While a hood rat may seem trite to you,
a hood rat’s what you see;
So forget about what the other’s say -
here’s what it means to me:
I’ve been brutally dragged through the pits of Hell,
yet, managed to survive,
well educated and fully functional,
when I came out the other side.
I scrounged the lessons taught at Harvard,
because knowledge, I found, was free;
But Harvard can't teach the lessons I've learn -
that knowledge is unique to me.
While they've heard the sounds of a mournful Trane,
and Miles moaning in the night,
not against the backdrop of hunger and pain,
or injustice, hatred, and blight.
Yet, these are the things you want me to purge,
and spurn the life I’ve led.
Well, I’m sorry sweet thing, as much as I love you,
the soul of a hood rat is my edge.