Life throws both good and bad at us. Every day may bring us into confrontation with a problem that seems to have no solution, or place us in a situation that plays on our fear of taking action. Yet, obsession about the negative things in our life is like a shovel that digs us inch by inch into a deeper hole. Soon we are in over our heads, and the pit becomes so deep we cannot see the light of day. Fumbling in the dark, we can hardly find the means to climb out of this ditch. But the answer is always there, inside us. Within everyone is the power to lift themselves up into the light. What, then, is the springboard out of the darkness? The answer is purpose.
Clearly I came from a failing background and then placed in foster care for 13 years. I could hardly have known it at the time, but with the right attitude, a painful past is nothing more than a series of stepping-stones opening you up for a greater purpose. It wasn’t until many years later that I heard this saying: “The bigger your problem, the greater your destiny can be.” Extraordinary people have faced extraordinary difficulties. Indeed, if they hadn’t, they wouldn’t be extraordinary.
Life will test your spirit, and whether you believe it or not, you have the power within you to find victory. The perfect example is Aron Ralston, the young man who cut off his own arm after being pinned down under a rock in a Utah canyon. Why is he such a source of inspiration? Because when the chips were down and all hope seemed lost, he found the will to do the unthinkable.
Everybody who has heard his story has asked him or herself, “Could I have done it?” But Ralston didn’t commit to the dreaded deed until nearly six days of starvation and dehydration. I think many of us would have found the resolve to do the same thing he did.
The point of life is not to completely avoid trouble, if only because to do so is futile and foolhardy. Suffering is woven into the fabric of life. Even the most seemingly charmed life will not be free of pain. It’s what we do with that pain that sets us apart. The German philosopher Nietzsche once said, “Whatever does not kill me makes me stronger.” I think this quote perfectly sums up the proper attitude towards suffering. The hardest steel is tempered in the hottest fires. When we overcome our troubles, the soul becomes more resilient.
While living in foster care and at the children’s shelter, I was confronted with a decision. Was I going to let these threatening new circumstances beat me down and destroy my spirit, or was I going to hold my head up and bravely meet any challenges that came hurtling my way? It was the first time I’d been forced to make an important choice of any kind, much less decide what attitude I would carry forth against what I considered a hostile world. But as I found myself backed into a corner, forced to either come out swinging or collapsing in on myself, I decided I must adapt and overcome. It became clear to me that whatever hope there was must come from within my own heart. Just by deciding this, I found new sources of strength.
This memory of consciously choosing a path of resistance and overcoming has stayed with me all my life, and convinced me that battling successfully with adversity always begins with a choice to be strong. If a scared five year-old boy was able to consciously pull himself up by the bootstraps and show fresh and life-affirming determination, couldn’t anybody? Wasn’t there some kernel of spirited will power hiding in all of us, waiting to be drawn upon as a source of limitless energy?
What my childhood decision really came down to is that I decided then and there that I must have purpose. Purpose would drive me to overcome the troubles I immediately faced, and the many challenges I sensed were on the horizon. Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, came to believe that when there is no immediate hope of deliverance, and it seems like there is nothing to live for and no reason to go on, having purpose in one’s life is the thing that keeps us going.
Frankl was a Holocaust survivor, and during the years he spent in a Nazi concentration camp, he took note of who survived the ordeal and why. He concluded that the most important thing separating survivors from those who gave in was that each of those who lived had some reason to keep on living. A project they had always wanted to finish, an aspiration that had been denied them since they’d been imprisoned.
Sometimes those who were by all accounts physically weaker survived, simply because there was something in their lives that was left unfinished. Meaning is like a carrot on a stick, dangling in front of us, prodding us to keep going. But unlike the ox that forever chases the carrot, the more effort we exert the closer we come to grasping whatever it is we’re chasing. One day, the meaning we seek will be in our very hands.
Purpose wraps us in a protective cloak; it helps defend us from the slings and arrows of fortune. Five year-old boy that I was, I decided my purpose was to be a super hero rock star! That may seem silly, but the idea firmly took root in my mind. I knew I wanted to do big things, make a splash, but always with an idea towards the good. I wanted to do things that put a smile on people’s faces, and turned their frowns upside down. But how was I to accomplish this?
Far from on my way to being a rock star, I was a frightened kid at a county holding facility for undesired boys and girls. The place was cold and impersonal, a warehouse or a prison. I could sense the deep anxiety all around me. Some of the children were crying, others lashed out angrily, still others simply sat there, stunned expressions on their faces. There was nobody around to provide comfort or consolation, and we all bore the shame of being unloved. Still, the dream persisted, and I didn’t let my harsh environment destroy my aspirations. So I leave you with these thoughts…never let a weakness destroy your greatness and never ever let the past infect your future. Your best days are still ahead of you.
“What a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t happened yet.”
Have a great 2014!
– Derek Clark
Please take a look at my latest TEDx video on The Power of Determination.
Derek Clark’s life is one of resilience and redemption. As a child he suffered unthinkable child abuse, abandonment and emotional distress before being turned over to the psychiatric hospital at age five. His 13 years in the San Francisco bay area foster care system reflected an early life of humiliation, aggression, emotional distress, overwhelming anxiety and being wrongfully labeled. Eventually, with the help of foster parents and mentors he defied the artificial limitations imposed upon him. Derek knows first hand how to cope with adversity and overcoming hardship. His past has never held him back from accomplishing what he set his heart and mind to.
Derek is an inspiring speaker/trainer, a featured expert on CNN Headline News, The Ricki Lake Show and The Steve Harvey TV Show. Google ranks Derek the #1 “inspiring motivational speaker” out of 18 million listings. He is the author of six books including “Never Limit Your Life” and the “I Will Never Give Up” book series.
As a speaker, author and singer/songwriter, Derek has spoken and performed his music from Australia to Canada including a President of the United States. His true-life trials and personal triumphs have inspired organizations with his message of hope and unwavering perseverance.
His maxim is to make no excuses. He has turned his situation from a victim to a victor, equipping him with the Wisdom and the Will to never give up.
Find out more about Derek Clark and his motivational keynotes and programs at www.IWillNeverGiveUp.com