When all else fails…
The seeds of many plant species are impervious to water and gas, thus preventing germination.
The outer husks of these seeds are so hard that you can throw them against a brick wall and they bounce off, unharmed. Water cannot access the seed within the husk.
So how do they germinate and sprout? How is their life liberated, their potential unleashed?
The same way Andrew Jackson’s greatness was revealed — and the same way yours will be.
The story is told of Jackson’s boyhood friends trying to understand how he became a famous general and then the President of the United States.
They knew other men who had greater talent but who never succeeded.
One of Jackson’s friends said, “Why, Jim Brown, who lived right down the pike from Jackson, was not only smarter but he could throw Andy three times out of four in a wrestling match. But look where Andy is now.”
Another friend responded, “How did there happen to be a fourth time? Didn’t they usually say three times and out?”
“Sure, they were supposed to, but not Andy. He would never admit he was beat — he would never stay ‘throwed.’ Jim Brown would get tired, and on the fourth try Andy would throw him and be the winner.”
The thing that counts, someone concluded from the exchange, is not how many times you are “throwed,” but whether you are willing to stay “throwed.”
Jackson was thirteen when he joined the South Carolina militia to fight in the Revolutionary War.
After his capture, he was ordered to clean the boots of a British officer. Jackson refused. The officer then drew his sword and slashed Jackson across the forehead, leaving a scar he carried throughout his life.
Jackson was also shot in a duel. The bullet lodged near his heart and could not be safely removed. He died with that bullet in his chest and the scar as evidence.
Jackson was “scarified,” similar to the “scarification” process nature uses to unleash hard-shelled seeds, which is any process of breaking, scratching, or altering the seed coat.
Some seeds carry moisture inside them. In the winter the moisture freezes, expands, and bursts the seed open from the inside out.
Other seeds must be carried down riverbeds to get battered and pounded by rocks before they can come to life.
You cannot know what you’re made of until you bash against barricades. In fact, it is precisely the bashing that germinates your seed of greatness.
You start a business, it fails, you’re forced to declare bankruptcy. That’s not shameful — it’s scarification. You’re one step closer to sprouting greatness…
You make sales call after sales call and one door after another is slammed in your face. Don’t be dejected — revel in the possibilities emerging from your bruised husk…
“The brick walls are not there to keep us out,” explains Randy Pausch in his famous Last Lecture. “The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.”
Author and biographer Irving Stone, who spent a lifetime studying great men and women in history, was once asked if he had found a thread that runs through the lives of all these exceptional people. He answered,
“I write about people who sometime in their life have a vision or dream of something that should be accomplished and they go to work.
“They are beaten over the head, knocked down, vilified and for years they get nowhere. But every time they’re knocked down they stand up. You cannot destroy these people. And at the end of their lives they’ve accomplished some modest part of what they set out to do.”
Ever seen green poking through black asphalt? Plants, like water, defeat stone. As H. Jackson Brown put it,
“In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins — not through strength but by perseverance.”
An iron will is stronger than any stony obstacle. Indeed, the purpose of obstacles is to draw out your will.
When all else fails, when you’ve given your all and you’re tired and wounded and bruised and battered and broken and oozing blood, sweat, and tears, when you see no light at the end of the tunnel, there is but one thing you can do: persevere.
Don’t give up. Grit your teeth, square your shoulders, put your head down, put one foot in front of another.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt put it,
“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”
Hang on, and a light will appear, a way will unfold, a path will be revealed. And ultimately, your greatness will sprout…