It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. – Abigail Adams
Naturally, we’ll all run into challenges in our lives. We’ve probably all heard that how we deal with challenges demonstrates our true character. I’m writing this because I believe that it’s not only about how we deal with challenges when they arise, but actually seeking out difficulties and embracing it that truly makes someone great. In fact, the bigger challenges we face, the more full our lives are.
I’ve read a lot about American history, particularly the American Revolution. What has always fascinated me about the American Revolution is that it was not a revolution led by the poor and disadvantaged. It was primarily led by the wealthy and most educated members of society. The reason this is important to the topic is that these gentlemen did not have a major reason to rebel. They could have lived much more comfortably without being involved in the Revolution, yet there was something in their character that drew them into the Revolution. It’s as if they sought out difficulties in their lives because they knew that with difficulties comes greater reward. Let me describe the first five Presidents briefly to you, and the situations they were in prior to the Revolution. I chose the first five because it demonstrates that I’m not purposefully choosing the most successful of the founding fathers. Also, three of my favorite Presidential Biographies happen to be on this list as well, which you can purchase by clicking on the icons below:
1. George Washington- George Washington was the richest of all US Presidents (ahem, second after Donald Trump). He had a net worth of over $500 million (adjusted for inflation). He owned hundreds of slaves and had thousands of acres of land. He really didn’t need to worry about whether or not the British were taxing the colonies. He also was considered a war hero from the French and Indian war. Volunteering to lead the American Revolution and later to become President were two major burdens that he could have avoided entirely. He’s the most important American to ever exist mostly because he didn’t shy away from obstacles, when he certainly could have. Read Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life and you’ll have a newfound respect for a man that you likely haven’t thought much about since your high school history class.
2. John Adams – John Adams is my favorite President of all time. He is the only President on the list of the first 5 that can claim that he was self-made and wasn’t born into massive wealth. He also was the only non-Virginian of the list. John Adams graduated from Harvard and made himself a very successful lawyer. He even defended the soldiers who were on trial for the “Boston Massacre”. He easily could have remained neutral during the Revolution and maintained his relatively successful career, but he threw himself into the Revolution wholeheartedly. His wife, Abigail, is known as one of the wisest first lady’s (I think she was THE wisest) and his son John Quincy became the 6th President, and later a fiercely anti-slavery Congressman, who may have been an influence to a young Abraham Lincoln. You have to read David McCullough’s biography on John Adams. If you’re interested in learning more about John Adams, and you’re not really a book fan, watch the John Adams HBO series. I honestly would pay you to watch it…I think it’s that important.
3. Thomas Jefferson – This guy was a rich little snob growing up (Ok, I’m not a fan of Jefferson at all). That being said, he was a very intelligent and wealthy rich little snob. He was very talented and respectable in many ways. He certainly could have avoided the Revolution altogether and been better off. He was worth roughly $200 million in today’s money so it’s not like he needed his public positions to get by. Instead he dedicated his life to public service and is debatably one of the best President’s of all time.
4. James Madison – James Madison was well educated and well off. He inherited his estate “Montpelier” from his father. He’s on the list of top 10 most wealthy Presidents with a net worth over $100 million. Despite being brilliant, rich, and well educated he decided to join the cause of the Revolution and became Thomas Jefferson’s Secretary of State, and later President of the United States. Despite having a great set up in life, he sought a more difficult path, which led him to be known as the Father of The Constitution which may be one of the most brilliant documents of all time. I have a lot of respect for James Madison, and the only reason I know who he is, is because he took the risk of getting involved in a dangerous revolution when he could have lived very comfortably otherwise.
5. James Monroe – The Fourth Virginian on the list is James Monroe. I’m going to crown him as the People’s Champ. He had a net worth of $30 million in today’s currency and while he wasn’t as wealthy as the other Virginians on the list, he wasn’t exactly poor. He was being educated at William and Mary, he cut his college education short to hop into the Revolution. This guy was a fighter, like George Washington. Because of his decision to pursue a more difficult life, he became the Secretary of State to Madison, and negotiated the end of the War of 1812. He also negotiated the Louisiana Purchase, which almost doubled the size of the United States. As President he won re-election almost unanimously, and some say only one vote went against him to preserve Washington as the only unanimously elected President. James Monroe may be the the most underrated President of all time, and he only achieved greatness by giving up a sure thing and purposefully experiencing hard times.
I know I kind of went on a tangent on the first five Presidents, but it’s obvious to anyone who knows history that each of these guys gave up a lot to pursue difficult situations. It’s important to note that they all really believed in the idea of the Revolution. They all believed in something much greater than themselves. Seeking obstacles for the sake of overcoming obstacles isn’t what I’m talking about. Keeping your eye out for challenges that are worth overcoming is what I’m talking about.
The list of Presidents above all devoutly believed in the Revolution, but you also should seek out challenges and even if you don’t believe in a greater cause like our founder’s did. I’m going to give you a few reasons why you should love the fact that life has challenges:
- Challenges Create Opportunity – Challenges create opportunity because when you’re having difficulties with something, chances are you’re not the first person to have difficulties with that same exact challenge. Difficulties are what inspire inventions and entrepreneurs to fill holes in the market. Keep your eye open for these difficulties and you just may find your next business idea right in front of your nose.
- Challenges Justify Value – If you’re flipping burgers at McDonald’s, it’s not likely that you have many difficult decision to demonstrate you’re worth making much more than minimum wage. Sure, it’s a job, but the way you make more in life is doing difficult things. ‘Difficult’ can be making decisions that nobody else is capable of making or it can be difficult in the fact that it sucks, and you need to grind your way through it every day. If you can do both, you’re on your way to providing great value to society, and you likely will be compensated heavily as a result.
- Challenges are Interesting/Exciting – If you went through life without challenges, wouldn’t it be miserably boring? It’d be like playing a videogame on the easiest level repeatedly slaughtering the AI that purposely is letting you win. But what did you really win? The only way we can feel alive is by challenging ourselves and constantly leveling up. I constantly am trying to fill my schedule to see how much I can get done because it’s fun for me. Maybe I’m some sort of sick masochist, but I don’t think I’m the only one who finds challenges to be fulfilling.
- Challenges Create a Barrier to Entry – We’ve probably all heard the saying, that if it were easy everyone would do it. I take pride in doing things that I know others can’t do. Sporting events wouldn’t be that interesting if it was 100% based on genetics. The great part of being successful in sports is that it took countless hours to get there. Not everyone can or will do it. It’s difficult. The same thing for business or your profession. The more difficult it is the less you have to worry about someone else desiring to come in and push you out. As long as you can overcome challenges faster and better than others, you really have nothing to worry about. On the flip-side if you are apathetic because you feel there is a big barrier to entry, you could potentially experience entrepreneurs like Elon Musk getting into the industry and trying to overthrow you.
- Challenges Create Teachable Moments – Have you ever had an error on your computer that happens occasionally and when you’re ready to fix it, you can’t get the problem to happen again? You may feel like you missed the opportunity to fix it and now it’s a ticking time bomb waiting to happen again at the absolute worst possible time. Correcting issues as they come up is especially critical with young children, so make sure that you don’t miss the opportunity when they’re young. I just read in 12 Rules to Live By, by Jordan Peterson, that parents shape the majority of their child’s personality by age 4. When I started viewing my child’s misbehavior as a chance to correct it now, when a 2 year old is throwing a fit, rather than at 22 year old going to prison, it made me appreciate the misbehaving moments a bit more. Instead of ignoring the issues that can snowball into major difficulties, it’s best to take advantage of the difficulty and create a better future for you and those around you right now.
- Challenges Help You Grow – We’ve all heard the saying, “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger”. While I don’t entirely agree with the saying, it makes sense. It makes sense in the fact that after overcoming a challenge we often are more capable of overcoming another challenge that may be slightly bigger. Not only do we get smarter, but in some cases challenging ourselves can leave us physically more capable to handling challenges.
- Beating Challenges Will Make You Great – Not only will you feel great by overcoming obstacles, but you will increase your chances of being considered great! What do I mean by being great? Well, for starters none of the US Presidents on the list above would be remembered if they hadn’t chosen to join the Revolution. They risked their lives for an idea that they believed in. I’m sitting here racking my brain trying to think of one person who is remembered in history books for being completely average, and I can’t seem to think of one. Even kings and queens who did nothing to earn their position of authority will not truly be remembered unless they do something exceptional and overcome an exceptional challenge.
By now, I hope that I have thoroughly convinced you to keep your eye open for challenges so that you can embrace them. I’d love to hear about obstacles you are overcoming in your life, especially if you are purposefully challenging yourself to do great things! Drop me a comment below! As always, thanks for reading, and remember to be great today!