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Monday, July 11, 2011

The gift of recognizing your gifts

Thomas Alva Edison, often praised as America's greatest inventor, developed deafness early on in his life, due to scarlet fever causing an untreated middle ear infection. He sold candy, newspapers and vegetables in his early years. When a school teacher referred to him as "addled", his mother decided to just educate him at home. Yet, before his death, Edison had 1,093 patents to his name, and earned credit for many inventions, among which the phonograph, the light bulb and motion pictures.

Here's the heart of the matter: Edison had something far more valuable than all his patents and inventions: an extraordinarily positive perception of life. It was this positive mindset that greatly enhanced his abilities. Edison failed thousands of times in his efforts to develop electric light, but he simply chose to view each unsuccessful experiment as the elimination of a way that was not working. When he finally arrived at the solution that forever changed the world, electric light, he managed to forever secure his place in history. Hence, one of his famous quotes is, "If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward."

History presents us the story of looking beyond challenges to recognize your gifts in many eras, shapes, and forms. Here's an entirely different example: Carl Brashear, who passed on in 2006, became the first African American Navy Master Diver. Those of us who have seen the movie Men of Honor know that there's more to the story. Discriminated against throughout his training, Carl earned his diver's certificate in spite of very mean spirited obstructions all geared to ensure that he would not pass his diver's exam! Later, when he lost the lower portion of his left leg on the job, he was told that he could no long be a diver. It was pure believe in himself, and defiance of all odds, that pushed Brashear toward exceeding all expectations, and re-earning his diver's certificate, thus becoming the first amputee to earn a diver's certificate as well! Upon retirement, Brashear only chose to remember the good things and understand that the challenges had a purpose as well: "I can honestly say that I reached my goal in the Navy. It was an exciting career, but then it wasn't a bed of roses either. I had my ups and downs in the Navy, but I would do it over if I could".

Last example: Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 1996. The prognosis was grim, as doctors found a tumor that had metastasized to his brain and lungs. His cancer treatments included brain and testicular surgery and extensive chemotherapy. Yet, Lance won the Tour de France each year from 1999 to 2005, and even broke the record, which was previously set on five wins. Lance became the only person so far to win seven times. One of his famous quotes also reveals his positive outlook on life: "Anything is possible. You can be told that you have a 90-percent chance or a 50-percent chance or a 1-percent chance, but you have to believe, and you have to fight."

I could write a book, just on this topic and the many examples there are, but the message is hopefully clear by now: gifts don't always present themselves in clear ways. Some gifts take on an appearance of challenges, and it's up to us to realize that these challenges are just the enfolding, placed there to see whether you are brave enough to unwrap your gifts.

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