Mackay: Adversity is the springboard to great achievement

To understand adversity, take two acorns from the same tree, as nearly alike as possible — and plant them in two separate locations. Plant one on a hill by itself and the other in a dense forest. The oak standing alone is exposed to every storm. Its roots grow deep in every direction, grasping every rock to support itself from the threatening elements.

The acorn planted in the dense forest grows up a weak, willowy sapling. Since it was shielded by its neighboring oak trees, it feels no need to spread its roots far and wide for support.

Don’t be afraid of adversity. Welcome it! Adversity makes you stronger. It helps you grow.

I recently returned from the annual Horatio Alger Awards in Washington, D.C. According to its website, these awards are named after Horatio Alger Jr., “whose tales of overcoming adversity through unyielding perseverance and basic moral principles captivated the public in the late 19th century.”

Each year, the Horatio Alger Association selects and honors approximately 10 individuals who have triumphed over adversity with the virtues of hard work, honesty, individual initiative, adherence to goals and community leadership. I am honored to have been inducted into this prestigious organization in 2004.

The mission of the association is about promoting success and extending a helping hand to others. This year we awarded scholarships to 106 students who, in the face of great adversity, have exhibited an admirable commitment to continuing their education and serving their communities.

I am proud that the Horatio Alger Association has become one of the nation’s largest providers of privately funded, need-based scholarships. This year marked the 30th anniversary of the scholarship program, which has awarded more than $100 million to more than 21,000 students.

My good friend Lou Holtz, Hall of Fame college football coach, always says, “Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.”

Adversity is a fact of life. It can’t be controlled. Problems and people can’t stop you. The only thing that can stop you is YOU. Only you can control how you react to adversity. When faced with adversity, do you buckle beneath the weight of it all? Do you ask “Why me?”

Dolly Parton said, “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”

Here is a sampling of Horatio Alger Award recipients who turned adversity into an advantage.

Author and poet Maya Angelou was 3 years old when her parents separated. She was raped at the tender age of 7 and as a result did not speak for nearly six years. She has published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, several books of poetry, and contributed to many plays, movies and television shows.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his family were forced to leave Germany in the 1930s due to the Nazi movement. He ended up in New York City and couldn’t speak English. He entered the U.S. Army and returned to earn his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate from Harvard.

Carol Burnett, actress, comedian, singer and writer, had alcoholic parents and was raised by her grandmother in an impoverished area of Hollywood.

Hank Aaron, who broke Babe Ruth’s unbreakable Major League Baseball home run record, grew up in a poor family, picking cotton. His family couldn’t afford baseball equipment, so he practiced by hitting bottle caps with sticks.

Mackay’s Moral: A winner never quits, and a quitter never wins.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.

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