In New York City a journalist was tasked with interviewing two men. One was a criminal. He abused drugs, was in and out of jail his whole life, and was cold stony broke. The other, quite the opposite. He was a wealthy man, loved by his entire community and had a beautiful family he cherished.
They only had one similarity, they were brothers.
When the newspaper owner heard about these two men, he had to understand immediately how two brothers, who grew up in the same home, with virtually identical genetics, could live such completely different lives.
So when the journalist finally sat down with the two brothers they began discussing their childhood. It turned out that their father was also a criminal. He was the cause of incredible pain throughout their home. He abused drugs, his wife, and his two sons. Rick, who was in the middle of serving time for armed robbery, blamed his father for setting a terrible example.
When asked, how did your life turn out this way? Rick replied,
“With a father like mine, how could it turn out any other way?”
David, who was being recognized as a Forbes entrepreneur of the year, told a very similar story about his father. He agreed that he did in fact set a terrible example.
When asked, how did your life turn out this way? David replied,
“With a father like mine, how could it turn out any other way?”
Two sons, with the same genetics, the same childhood, the same abusive father and the same answer went on to live completely different lives. One, repeating the blue print laid out by his father. The other, defying expectations by becoming the master, instead of the slave, to his circumstances.
I hope that this example illustrates the significance of how the perspective we choose can impact our lives. Everyday we have the opportunity to choose the lens in which we see our world. We can decide to live life through a disempowering lens as a victim. Or, we can put our foot down, and decide that I am the master of my thoughts, feelings, and behaviours and no matter how bad my situation gets, it’s in my power to turn it around.
This post was inspired by all of the years I spent living through a disempowering lens. In High School, I felt like a victim to the hand I was dealt. As a result I didn’t handle life’s challenges with grace and fortitude. But it’s crystal clear to me now that everything I experienced was par for the course. Heartbreak, feeling uncomfortable, failure, disappointment, loss, sadness, and so much more is common. In fact, I now believe that it’s not only common, but necessary to live a full life.
My challenge is that our youth doesn’t yet see it that way. They, like me when I was their age, will make the same mistakes hoping that loss, heartbreak, and failure, is avoidable and other people should deal with it, not I.
That perspective doesn’t serve anybody. It doesn’t benefit the community, our families, and it especially does not serve the mental health of the individual themselves. Our perspective and in turn the lens we see life through has a tremendous impact on whether we feel like we’re healthy, stressed, struggling, or in a crisis.
For example, the student that sees his homework and tests as a challenge, is empowered to use the positive stress of his workload to get his assignments in on time. He’s driven by his deadlines to create a schedule that promotes healthy study habits, time for the gym and for his family and friends.
That’s not to say that he’ll never feel overwhelm or be disappointed in his grades, but it does mean that he’s willing to accept those emotions and outcomes as part of the process. His perspective is that the challenges that he faces in his life and in school are stretching him to grow. And based on my experience being and working with students, a focus on growth, is the perfect perspective to have.
On the other hand, we often see students who’s mental health suffer because of the lens in which they view their studies. Every quiz, test and assignment is a burden. They feel overwhelmed easily, succumb to stress and withdraw themselves from their educational experience. These individuals have a disempowering perspective on what it means to be a student and as a result experience downward momentum in their health.
I want to challenge our youth to avoid the mistakes that I’ve made in the past. To instead be like David from our story above. To see for themselves that difficulty, disappointment, and disaster are inevitable parts of life and that we should focus on the solution rather than the problem. These two shifts in perspective are a great place to start.
Problems vs. Challenges
One of the most disempowering, yet common, uses of language between adults and youth alike is the word “problems”. We need to wipe that word from our language patterns and replace is with the word “challenges”. Problems are disempowering and it overwhelms you. Rick from our example above, saw his upbringing as a problem. Problems are often out of your control and therefore he felt like a victim to his circumstances.
David on the other hand saw his situation as a challenge. Challenges are within your control to solve. Challenges you meet head on and you rise up to them and overcome them. Whatever stands in the way from you accomplishing your goal is not a problem, it’s a challenge that you’re ready to get after.
You are not the mistakes of your past
Our culture is obsessed with success. And as a result, our youth are often misguided and misinterpret what it means to “fail”. Today, we see mistakes, setbacks, and disappointments as catastrophe. For example, a student that is used to 90% on all their tests comes home with a 79%. Along with that 79% is a bruised ego and slash at their internal belief systems. That 79%, 60%, even 40% or less for that matter doesn’t represent failure, it represents opportunity. It’s a wake up call that I need to work harder, prioritize better, seek help and take better care of my health so I can be sharper. It took me far too long to recognize that my mistakes are not setbacks, they are truly the set ups for my future successes. Everything that happens to you, the good, the bad and the ugly, every experience, is an asset.
Rick believed that growing up in a broken home was a mistake. His father set a bad example and screwed him up. David however, is the perfect example of gleaning lessons from his past. His and Rick’s home were the same, but David’s perspective was shifted. Every mistake, setback, and disappointment his father represented, he used it as an example of what not to do.
So as you look at your own life as I have my own, and search within yourself for the beliefs and perspectives you hold, know that you are not the mistakes of your past, you are the resources and the capabilities you’ve gleaned from it. As soon as you make that shift in your life, anything bad that’s happened to you is ultimately your greatest asset.
My mental health made a dramatic shift when I made that choice consciously. I stopped seeing everything that happened to me as a problem, and instead a challenge testing my character. I stopped perpetuating my victim and disempowering mindsets and made the conscious decision to use my crisis with mental health as my greatest asset.
Now I can say without a doubt that I wouldn’t be half the man I am today if I didn’t experience depression and anxiety. I wouldn’t know how good it feels to be confident. I wouldn’t have the empathy and passion I now have to help other people. And most of all, I wouldn’t be able to type here today that I know with every fibre of my being there is no level, no matter how low, that you can’t come back from. That is of course, if you chose the perfect perspective.
- In your everyday communication, replace the word problem with challenge. You will feel more in control and excited to tackle those challenges head on.
- Embrace your past. Use mistakes, setbacks, and disappointments as opportunities to learn rather than for reasons to dwell and feel bad. Take those lessons with you in your life and use them as your greatest advantage.
Ps. If supporting mental health is important to you, I’m currently raising money for Canada’s largest youth led summit on mental health. We need your support! Please donate here or share this link with someone who would like to support mental health in Canada.
Till next time, stay on the offensive. Aggressively pursue a better version of yourself. And remember what Jim Rohn said, “You cannot change the destination of your life overnight but you can change your direction.”