Defying The Odds

What are the odds that you should be alive right now reading this article and my website? We don’t normally think about the likelihood of our existence on this planet but I believe that it’s something to ponder and be thankful for. We tend to not think about the odds behind being alive and breathing but it is quite fascinating if you do a little bit of research. According to Business Insider, the probability of you or any other human being existing comes out to 1 in 10^2,685,000.

That’s a huge number and leaves us with the very low probability of you actually existing at all. The odds of any of us actually believe according to this calculation is quite slim. In order for all of these events to align, your parents have to have met each other, fallen in love over a period of time, etc. for you to have been born as you are. When you consider the odds, the process of creating life is truly a miracle and is a reminder that we all have defied the odds at the first moments of our life.

When we consider the unlikely event of our births, it’s something that we should remember and take pride in. There are no greater odds against us than being able to experience existence as human brings after birth. If you are able to take into account how lucky and fortunate it is to be alive, then perhaps you’ll be able to defy the odds when it comes to how you live your life and meet the challenges that are in your way. No odds are greater than the probability of existence so when you keep that in mind, other goals that you have should not seem so insurmountable.

What must you do in order to defy the odds? Well, the first thing that you must understand is that you are going to have to put the work in. That is truly an undeniable fact of life is that the odds will be stacked against you when you’re first starting out but the only way to lessen those odds effectively is to put the time and effort in in order to have your best chance of success. If you do nothing at all and expect everything to instead be done for you, you’re not going to defy the odds and won’t be able to reach your goals.

When you’re working hard at a goal or an objective, there are always going to be the naysayers. If they are not somebody who has your full trust and confidence, it’s honestly better to ignore them than to take their critiques of you seriously. They know the odds are stacked against you and are rooting for you to fail. There is a clear difference between those people who give you sound advice to help you defy the odds and those other folks who would rather see you fail just for no other reason than they take pleasure from that happening.

If they are not giving you good advice or are helping you reach your goals despite the odds, then you need to cut those people out of your life. It’s okay to have critics when you are trying to do something big with your life especially when you’re trying to do something new but it’s not okay when they are actively trying to undermine you and prevent you from trying at all. Whether it’s trying out for the basketball team, starting your own business, or pursuing your PhD, you’re going to have some people out there doubting you and your abilities. Those people are not worth your time and energy. You need to invest your time instead on those people out there willing to support you in your goals despite how insurmountable and challenging they may be.

If you think the odds are stacked high against you, it’s best to chip away at them little by little. If it’s a long-term project or goal, you can make progress to keep you going over time and make you feel better about what you’re doing. If you know that you are getting better or improving in some way, then you are on the right track.

To give you all some perspective, let’s take a look at three people who had the odds stacked against them in life but still were able to have major success in their pursuits. These three people are Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, and J.K. Rowling.

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States and helped to save the union from splitting into two thanks to his leadership during the Civil War. He is considered to be one of the greatest presidents in American history along with George Washington. Assassinated while in office, Lincoln is immortalized in U.S. society as a brave man who was guided by a steady moral compass in his commitment to freeing the slaves.

What most admirers of President Lincoln forget is that his path to the Presidency was set back many times with failures and shortcomings. Unlike other American presidents including our current one, President Lincoln was not born into wealth or privilege. He was born into poverty and had to work from a young age to support his family especially after the death of his mother when he was only nine years old. Although he was not able to have consistent access to formal schooling, young Abraham was an avid reader who considered himself to be a lifelong learner.

This love of learning helped him to pursue his profession as a lawyer and later as a politician. The road to becoming President of the United States was not an easy one for Lincoln as he lost eight different elections before winning the highest office in the land. As if that weren’t enough, he twice failed in starting businesses and also battled severe depression even during his presidency. Him and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, also lost two children that would have broke anyone but President Lincoln never gave up on his goals and his vision for the United States as a truly free nation. Even when the odds were stacked against him, he knew never to give in to failure totally and to throw in the towel. He kept fighting to succeed and that drive and determination is why we remember him as being one of America’s greatest presidents.

Thomas Edison is known as America’s greatest inventor. We often take the light bulb as an invention for granted since it is so ubiquitous today as part of our daily lives. However, if you can imagine it, the light bulb was only patented in 1879, which is a little more than one hundred and twenty five years ago today. What would have happened had the light bulb never been invented? Would we be able to power our modern, technological society without being able to harness electricity without this invention so easily? While there is much debate about who actually invented the light bulb, Edison is acclaimed as the one who patented it along with a 1,000 other U.S. patents to his name. In addition to the light bulb, he is also credited with developing the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the stock ticker.

Despite the massive amount of success Edison eventually achieved, it took a whole lot of failure in order for him to be world-renowned. As an inventor, Edison had to work extremely hard to get his inventions to actually work. The most famous example of him defying the odds is when it took him over one thousand recorded attempts to get the invention of the light bulb to actually work. When a local reporter asked him, “How did it fail to fail 1,000 times?” Edison said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

As you can see from the quote above, Edison injected a little bit of humor and self-deprecation into his failures. When you’re striving to defy the odds, you have to make sure that the failures you’ve had don’t stick with you and that you are able to rise above them. If Edison gave up after try #500 and chose to quit, I would not be referencing his powerful story today. He had the tenacity and drive not to give up and chase his dream of being a successful and innovative inventor.

Most importantly, Edison believed in himself and what he was doing. A teacher of Thomas Edison once remarked that, “he was too stupid to learn anything.” Edison was also fired from his first two jobs as an adult when his bosses thought he was “not productive.” Thomas Edison knew his self-worth and did not let others opinions of him stand in his way. He worked hard at his inventions, did not let his failures stop him, and became an American success story. He is a perfect example of literally defying the odds.

Before millions of fans would stand in line for hours to read her latest book or to go to midnight showings with their friends dressed as wizards and witches, famed J.K. Rowling was a struggling author trying to sell the first Harry Potter book to different publishers. She was a single mother living on welfare in the mid 1990s and was only able to sell the first book in the Harry Potter series for only $4,000. Now, over two decades later, she is one of the wealthiest women in the world and is a living example of the ‘rags to riches’ story. The Harry Potter series has installed a love of reading for my entire generation.

I have my own fond memories of going to the midnight book releases and racing home to read the latest book in the series throughout the night when I got my hands on a copy. More than just her writing, she inspires people both young and old with her standing up for those who have less in life and advocating for the fair and equal treatment of all people. J.K. Rowling didn’t let the success of her book series get to her head but has used her wealth and resources to donate to the causes of anti-poverty and improving children’s welfare.

While there is much debate over her views of politics and religion, the Harry Potter series is not only the biggest selling book and film series of all time but also a needed reminder of how we should treat other people with decency and respect despite their similarities and differences to us. Her actions in her writing and in her philanthropic work show us the importance of observing and following the ‘golden rule.’ Treat other people the way you would like to be treated. Hopefully, we all choose to remember that due to her example.

What do these three men and women have in common? They never gave up and they never gave in. Even when the stakes were raised against them, they were able to turn things around to become great successes in their pursuits. Although they were born in different eras and had different callings in life, they shared the common trait of fighting onward even when the odds were against them. That is why I am imploring you if you are reading this to keep going and keep fighting.

You have to defy the odds even when they look slim. Sometimes as shown above in the stories of these storied people, the greatest successes can come when all hope seems lost. You’re going to have to work harder than ever, you will have to put up with obstacles and barriers thrown in your way by life, and you will hear comments from the critics and naysayers but you must keep doing your best. To bring a pop culture reference into this weighty yet meaningful article, you must remember the words of the Jedi Master Yoda from the Star Wars series, “Do or do not, there is no try.” Good luck to you if you’re reading these words and I wish you much success in your endeavors.

Sources

1.) http://www.businessinsider.com/infographic-the-odds-of-being-alive-2012-6

2.) http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/education/failures.htm

3.) https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Pajares/OnFailingG.html

4.) https://lifebeyondnumbers.com/people-defied-odds-find-success/

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Steve Jobs – ‘On Failure’

It’s not often when the average person can gleam some wisdom or some insight from a YouTube video but there are exceptions to this fact when you start to dig deeper. One of these videos that I enjoyed viewing focuses on the late Steve Jobs, the innovative and driven entrepreneur, who was the co-founder of Apple Inc. and for the later half of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century helped lead the computer and smartphone revolution around the world. While most people may know him from his appearances at developers’ conferences where he would unveil Apple’s latest invention or innovation, there is a side to Steve Jobs that some folks may overlook.

Steve Jobs wasn’t always a great success and had many failures throughout his life. Fired by the company he co-founded and having gone through product setbacks such as with the Apple III and the NeXT computer, not everything went the right way for the legendary entrepreneur at first. However, these setbacks and failures are obscured today but the massive amount of success and innovation he would bring to the world by sticking to his principles and by always taking the initiative to ‘stay hungry’ for more.

The YouTube video I’m referencing in this blog post is titled, “Steve Jobs on Failure” has over one million unique views and has been up on the website for over six years. In the video, most likely set in the 1990’s, a young Steve Jobs talks about one particular time where he took the initiative that was driven by his innate curiosity. At the beginning of the video, Jobs talks about the fact that most people don’t have the experiences they should because they never ask or inquire about them to begin with. Mr. Jobs hints at the fact that he was never afraid to ask for help from other people, especially if they were in his field of work and would be able to assist him in some way by giving him advice or by mentoring him in some capacity.

The adult Steve Jobs in the video recounts how when he was only twelve years old, he called up Bill Hewlett, the engineer and co-founder behind the massively successful information technology company known worldwide as Hewlett Packard or HP, which similarly to Apple Inc., is also based out of Silicon Valley in California. The twelve-year old Jobs introduced himself to Mr. Hewlett and simply asked him directly for help with building a frequency counter. Little Steve asked Mr. Hewlett for some spare parts that could be used in order to build an effective frequency counter. The young Steve Jobs left quite an impression on Mr. Hewlett, so much so that the co-founder of HP gave him the spare parts as well as a summer job working on an assembly job working with the nuts and bolts that help make the frequency counters at Hewlett Packard work effectively.

You can tell the way from the way that Steve reacts to Mr. Hewlett’s genuine help and generosity with giving him a job and a start to his future in information technology that it meant a lot to him both personally and professionally. Certain moments like that in our lives when somebody really gives a chance and helps us along the way to having a brighter future is a lasting memory that simply does not go away. We can only speculate what might have happened if Mr. Hewlett had instead just hung up the phone on young Steve and not helped him out at all. The world could very much be a different place had Steve not gotten that positive feedback and mentorship that we all seek in our own lives.

“I’ve never found anyone who said ‘No’ or hung up the phone when I called…I just asked.” Steve knew that there was a chance at failure when it came to reaching out to others in his field but he knew also that he had to try in order to get ahead in his life. He had to put himself out there, make connections, and learn from others in order to build his company and create successful products. I think Steve realizes that he would not be where he was as an adult without the help he received from others throughout his life. The video shows his sense of gratitude for that assistance and that he is wise enough to remember to give back to other people as well who want to be in his position one day or to be successful like he was.

“Most people never pick up the phone and call…most people never ask.” Steve is right in his assertion that those who don’t reach out for help or don’t seek out opportunities will never get to where they want to be in life. He makes the correct distinction between those people who take the initiative and those other people who let opportunities pass them by. You can dream and wish for things to happen for yourself but unless you put the pen to the paper or put your phone to your ear, you won’t accomplish that much.

Lastly, Steve notes in this video that ‘you have to be willing to fail…you got to be willing to crash and burn.” Steve Jobs like many other inventors and innovators had multiple failures beset them but they did not give up and they were not afraid to fail. Through failure, we learn from our mistakes and we get better and better at what we are trying to accomplish. With enough hard work and effort, we can push forward to achieve what we set out to do originally and so much more. When an Apple product failed to gain traction or when he was forced out of his own company, Steve Jobs like many other successful men and women did not give up and go home. They learned from their mistakes and became better at what they do.

“If you’re afraid of failing, you won’t get very far.” To put it bluntly, failure happens to everybody. Nobody in the world succeeds 100% of the time at everything they do. People like Steve Jobs recognize that this is all too true but it doesn’t deter them from their goals because they won’t stop until they achieve what they want to accomplish. In order to turn those failures into successes, you need to have an indomitable will and to let nothing stand in your way.

Instead of blaming your failures on others or giving up after a few bumps in the road, you should continue to embrace the learning process and seek help from those other people who have been successful in their lives and would be willing to offer their help to you. Steve Jobs did not become one of the most important men of the 20th century by being afraid of failure or from doing it all on his own. He sought the advice and counsel of others while never giving up even when things looked pretty bleak. That kind of mindset that he explains in the video helps us to understand why he became so successful in his life and how we can learn from his words to become successful in our own lives.