“The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.” ~Thomas Paine (Tweet!)
The past makes a poor crystal ball. (Tweet!)
So often, we look down the road of our lives through the prism of the past, projecting that past onto the unknown and unknowable future.
But that dirties it, somehow tarnishing its possibilities with the dull haze of former disappointments.
Our troubled childhoods, mistakes we’ve made, abuses sustained, unfair circumstances, unhappy conditions, limitations—and the insecurities they bred—become the excuses we use for living life with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake.
That, of course, becomes a challenge when we try making something of our lives, doing what moves us, improving our circumstances or ourselves, becoming what we were meant to be, making something spectacular of this precious life we’ve been given.
The excuse of past conditions for future surrenders lingers all too frequently just out of sight, waiting to justify yet another application of the brake on life.
For some of us, all we need to empower the decision to take our foot off the brake is the inspiration of a powerful example, proof that it can be done, that someone as regular and normal as me with all my limitations, baggage, insecurities and emotional problems has done it before.
We need the proverbial 4-minute mile breakthrough.
In 1952, Roger Bannister set a new world record for finally breaking the 4 minute mile, with 3 minutes, 59 seconds.
While largely overplayed and mythologized, the symbolism it represents is nonetheless a powerful reminder that difficult and never-before accomplished tasks can be accomplished.
His time was broken just 46 days later.
So can yours.
Below, is one such example, perhaps a Roger Bannister moment for you. May it be the motivating inspiration you need to lean more heavily on the gas and less heavily on the brakes as you drive life’s highway to happier places than your past of itself would otherwise suggest is likely.
An Unlikely Hero
As an infant, he was largely abandoned to a nanny. His mother, in fact, rarely saw him. His dad almost never did.
At 7 years old, he was sent to a boarding school where he proved to be literally the worst in his class. His parents got reports that declared their son “seems unable to learn anything.”
He was punished severely, once being dragged into a room and beaten until bloody for school infractions. He changed schools after his nanny discovered welts on his back from the beatings once he was home on break.
He made no friends in school.
His mom rarely visited him and even forgot to send him Christmas presents; His dad also failed to visit him at school—ever—even when he was nearby and his son wrote letters asking him to stop by.
His letters were never even answered. Dear dad didn’t even know exactly how old his own son was.
Later, as a teen, his father wouldn’t let him go to the best school saying his son would just embarrass him, that he was “such a stupid boy.” He just couldn’t accept that kind of public humiliation from that “damned impudent little idiot.”
Again, in high school, he did not fair too well. As if to underscore that fact, on parent visitation days, while other kids’ parents came to see their children, his never did.
The class would march out in rank order, from the highest score to the lowest. He was always dead last. His parents were embarrassed, so stayed home. He felt the sting of it, as he said, “sharply.” Certainly a gross understatement.
When he proudly wrote his dad telling him he had been accepted into military college, his dad finally wrote back to say, “You are a constant disappointment to me …. Not only are you a complete failure … I see nothing ahead of you but failure… Do not write me anymore; I do not wish to hear anything more from you.”
The same year the son graduated from military college, his dad died in lingering pain and agony after being brought home in a straight jacket, perhaps reflecting the emotional straight jacket he had helped secure around his son’s psyche for so many relentless years.
So who is this failure of a son? Who was it that went nowhere and did nothing? Who was it that was hampered by a loveless childhood with a detached mother and verbally and emotionally abusive father who never understood or cared for his own son?
Who Was this Hapless Son from an Unhappy Family?
He was an artist, winning several awards under a pseudonym.
He was a very successful author of several books (one winning him the Nobel Prize) making him a wealthy man.
He was the lone voice who saw war coming in the appeasement policies Nevel Chamberlain brokered with Germany.
He was made Prime Minister of England twice and presided over a successful war against the spread of Nazism.
His name was Sir Winston Churchill.
If this man from that background can rise above the pain of his past and do great things, forging a life that truly matters, what are you waiting for?
You are endowed with all that’s needed to lift your own life from the past, making something wonderful out of the spare parts. (Tweet this!)
Caveat: No one’s life is exactly like anyone else’s. So we can’t assume any direct correlation between his and ours.
Still, to see someone who rose from such childhood obscurity with so many emotional obstacles in the way, to such heights of success is inspiring nonetheless.
My hope has been to inspire you to a level of confidence that will be the push behind the next step closer to the life that awaits you.
So what advice might Churchill offer a person living below their potential, someone trapped in the pain of their childhood, someone who yearns for something better, more meaningful, happier than what they’ve settled for?
He might say what he once told a graduating class of high school students:
“Never give up. Never, ever, ever give up.” (Tweet!)
Your turn …
What lessons do you draw from Churchill’s life? What historic figures have inspired you? What about them or their lives are inspirational?
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