The Alton Giant

I was reminded of the importance of overcoming adversity in our lives by an article I recently read about the world’s tallest man.

Robert Wadlow was known to the world as the Alton Giant. He was the tallest man that ever lived. At the time of his death, he measured 8 feet 11.1 inches. His exceptional height was the result of an overactive pituitary gland, a condition that most likely could have been treated if he lived today.

He worked for the Peters Shoe company which was a division of St. Louis International Shoe Company. Considering his height, which made him a curiosity, he was fortunate to be able to find normal employment.

Many looked at him as a freak. The editor of the AMA journal testified under oath in a libel suit that Wadlow “…is a freak.”

Wadlow passed away from a foot infection in April, 1940, at the age of twenty-two. His short life was an example of an individual who battled adversity with kindness and positivity. Despite being ridiculed for his height for his entire brief life, those who knew him recall that he was a thoughtful and generous person. He did not allow his own personal challenges to affect the way he treated other people.

The example of Robert Wadlow’s life is particularly instructive because his battle with adversity was not the precursor to becoming a great political leader or a great athlete. Wadlow’s daily struggle with adversity was tied to his desire to be able to live a normal, happy and generous life. He is an example of a person who was so committed to being a happy and loving person that he did not allow adversity to cause him to become angry or bitter. Rather, adversity propelled him to become the best possible Robert Wadlow he could be.

Adversity is like a tornado. It destroys everything in its path except that which is indestructible, leaving us with the ability to see the truth about ourselves. Adversity helps define what we are really made of. It can make you better or bitter. If you overcome adversity it will make you stronger, wiser and empowered. Overcoming adversity is the gateway to becoming who God created you to be.

If you live long enough, you will encounter adversity. It could be the loss of a job, a serious illness, or challenges with family members. It can be a career change, the death of a spouse or the end of a relationship. Or it can be a disability, a bad childhood or any number of other possibilities.

The key to overcoming adversity is to make a decision that it will not defeat you. The choice is simple. Will my life be defined by my failure to overcome adversity? Or will it be defined by my positive response to that adversity.

Robert Wadlow’s life was defined by the way he responded positively to adversity. He did not use it as an excuse to become bitter. He battled adversity and was able to mature into a loving and generous person in his brief life. Friends and family remembered him not as a tall freak, but a kind and caring man.

Success comes from keeping your focus on who you were made to be and taking the actions necessary to conquer the adversities that will confront you throughout your life. It means that we look at challenging times as opportunities, not threats. With this perspective, adversity is part of our life’s journey to realize our potential and become what we were meant to be. It does not mean we are destined to be a failure.

If we approach and handle adversity properly, it will be the catalyst to help us define ourselves not by what we do but by who we are. Ultimately being successful is the result of becoming the best you that you can be.

Here are several things you can do to make sure adversity propels you into becoming a better you.

  • When adversity hits, take some time to reflect on your current situation and where you are in your life’s journey. Create a vision of the life you want to live. Think about what you can change to give your life a greater purpose. Formulate this picture in your mind and then write down a detailed vision of the life you want to have.
  • Make a commitment to change your current circumstances. Your present only controls you if you allow it to. Contrast your vision with your current situation to begin to see what you need to change to implement your vision. Make a list of the things that you need to change to realize your vision.
  • Review your list of changes you want to make and then make a list of the specific actions you need to take to change. You can dictate much of your future. You can make your vision become a reality. You can have purpose in your life. You can overcome the problems and circumstances that are facing your life today. Remember, again, that it is not adversity that defines us. It is our response to it. If you create a list of the actions needed and start to put changes into action, you will begin to change your world so that it begins to move toward your vision.
  • From your list of possible actions, highlight the top 3-4 actions you can take. Make a commitment to focus on these actions each day. Write these actions on an index card and keep it in your pocket or purse, or displayed prominently where you can see it and review it several times each day. If you complete an item on your list, go back to your initial list and add another action item. Continue this process until you have overcome the obstacles in your current situation.
  • Throughout this process, commit to yourself that you will never give up. When you get discouraged, remind yourself of how distasteful living with your old situation was. Stay focused on taking actions that will make your vision become your reality, and don’t let adversity get in the way.
  • Seek out people who can help you take the actions you need to take. Surround yourself with people who can help you through the tough times in life. You were never meant to do everything by yourself. Let go of your pride. Isolating yourself in times of adversity is one of the worst things you can do. People who love you want to help you. Let them do so.
    • It is worth noting that one of the keys to Robert Wadlow’s ability to overcome adversity was the support and love of family and friends.
  • Find ways to encourage yourself. Encouragement is another weapon in your arsenal against adversity. Prepare yourself for battle by taking time each morning to spend in reflection and prayer. Find meditations that you can use to remember that you love yourself and encourage yourself to move forward by doing the best that you can.

As you go through the process of becoming the person you were meant to be, keep the following in mind:

  • Anticipate that change will be hard. Change requires programming yourself with new habits. It requires many little decisions during the day to stop doing things the old way. It requires repeated decisions to do the uncomfortable until it becomes comfortable.
  • As hard as it is to do, stop focusing on what you have done wrong in your life. Stop punishing yourself for mistakes in the past. Will yourself to focus on the positive – that is, on what you need to do each day to achieve your personal vision.
  • Have an attitude of gratitude and celebrate small achievements along the way. Each morning take time to reflect on the successes of the previous day. Remembering your progress each day provides encouragement as you continue to work to completely implement your vision.
  • Persist no matter what. Accept that discomfort is part of the process. Embrace it and refuse to quit. Typically, losers are those people who didn’t realize how close they were to triumph when they gave up. Don’t suffer a fate like the man who was stranded in a blizzard. He walked for miles and gave up. They found him frozen to death 20 yards from shelter. The path to success is often long but frequently success at the end happens quickly.
  • Stay away from places and people that drag you into negativity. You may need to distance yourself from some friends or family for a period of time to make the changes you need to make. Remember that ultimately our ability to pour effectively into the lives of others means that you must become the best version of you that you can be. Some places and people from your past and your current situation are an impediment to your success. Be willing to make tough decisions in this regard.
  • Find value in the journey. Each of us is a diamond in the making. A diamond starts as nothing more than a cold, dark hunk of coal. However, a diamond is formed when the coal undergoes tremendous pressure and heat. Under those defining circumstances the molecules change and coal is transformed. But it isn’t until it is cut and polished that the facets are visible. Then you have a sparkling diamond.

You are a diamond. Every adversity you go through in life that applies pressure and momentary darkness increases your value. You may still be closer to a lump of coal than a finely cut brilliant diamond, but you are a diamond in the making. Adversity builds character, resourcefulness, courage, perseverance, and self-discipline. Adversity is the pressure that makes you into a diamond. Instead of fearing or running from adversity, embrace it. It is the fuel for you to become the person God meant you to be.