February 20 – Difficulty and opportunity

“In the middle of every difficulty comes opportunity.” (Albert Einstein)

My life seldom goes for very long down the perfect path I lay out. Usually, within a few steps there is a trial or an obstacle that pops up which tends to pull me off course. All too often these end up being something bigger, a real difficulty that must be addressed.

In this quote, Einstein points out that difficulties breed opportunities. The resolution of problems, just in itself, is an opportunity to learn new things, and to apply them quickly. But, there are other things as well – bigger things.

When I look back through my life, there are a number of rather large difficulties that have come my way. Each not only gave myself, and those around me, the opportunity to learn and grow, they also opened the path to new adventures in my life that might otherwise have never been available.

In many ways, the classic example of this in my life is the death of my father when I was 6 years old. That event forever changed the course of my life, and the lives of many people around me. It made my years growing up more difficult. We were limited financially, and there was one less parent to guide me. It was the 1970s, and I went to a Catholic grade school. In my class of 36 students, until I reached the 7th grade, I was the only child who didn’t have two parents at home. Today it would be hard to imagine a group of that size with only one single-parent home, but in those days it was me who was the rare exception.

Kids are kids, and kids were kids back then too. There wasn’t a worldwide campaign against bullying with talking heads on television constantly railing about its horrors. I was bullied harshly in those days. There were many “reasons” that the bullies used, one of them was that I didn’t have a dad at home. (To be fair, there were other reasons as well. I wasn’t the same ethnicity as the majority, I tended to talk a lot. I was smart and got good grades, and I wore glasses in the 4th grade, just to name a few). Because I was growing up in a single parent home, I was labeled a “momma’s boy”, and worse. That sting stayed with me all through my grade school years. Later, when I reached High School and then College age, I found others who were in a similar situation to mine.

The difficulty of being ostracized for my family make up had many effects on me, and has helped shape who I am as an adult. Today I find myself to be kinder and more caring than perhaps I would have been. At the same time it made me into a person who sometimes takes things far more personally than what I see in others.

Einstein’s quote references the notion that opportunities arise “in the middle” of the difficulties. That is true, and I could probably rattle off 15 or 20 examples where I have seen that in action in all parts of my life. Today, though, my mind is more about the long-term opportunities that difficulties provide. Today I am reminded that no matter how hard the path is now, there are golden opportunities for myself, and those around me. These challenges blaze a new trail of opportunity. Some of these new paths will be evident immediately, others will take years to be realized.

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