By: Eric Betts
As we approach the close of another year, there are so many who suffer from discouragement because they failed to reach their goals due to setbacks and disappointments. In many cases, it may seem as if the discouraged one is no closer to their goals than the previous year. The temptation is to conclude that all of their efforts are useless and a waste of time. What discouraged souls often forget is that sometimes the process that one endures is as important as reaching the destination. Indeed, there is value in the journey. We are stronger, better, and wiser as a result of the journey; these experiences can never be taken from us and will never be lost.
As a leader, one must have their eyes and ears open for discouragement in others and in themselves. Oftentimes, discouragement comes as a result of comparing one’s experience to that of others, or it appears that they have more failures than successes. What often occurs is that too many do not see the failures that others experience, but only their successes. If they had an inside view, they would see the struggles of others. When watching sports highlights, we do not see the football passes that were dropped, or in basketball, the shots that were missed. The highlights only show the completed passes and the shots that went into the basket. Additionally, we do not see the difficult practices or the arguments and disagreements in the locker-rooms. We only see the televised game and the results of difficult practices. This is how it is in your own professional development and success, and why one should not focus too much attention on the success of others. Use their success to inspire but not as a point of comparison. Everyone has his or her own path to travel, and each will reach their destination in their own time.
Social media is another example. Many assume they are failing or falling behind when they see others posting about their success. It is rare that one will post on social media about their failures, and it will therefore be impossible for you to measure the trend of their lives. You may see others posting about graduations, weddings, course completions, recognitions and awards from community leaders, career success, and international travels, but these posts often do not include the headaches and heartaches in the background. Social media shows its posters on their best days and never on their worst days. This medium often shows the happy faces but almost never does it reveal the tears. One expression that has recently become popular is that “comparison is the thief of joy.” The way that so many professionals have approached social media has led to frustration and disappointment, due to this reality. You may have failed many times, but you are never a failure if you keep moving toward your dreams. Sometimes you may feel lost, but you are never a loser when you take one day at a time.
Moreover, regardless of one’s level of success, no one is immune from moments or periods of discouragement. Some of the most famous people in the world have gone through periods where they have hit rock bottom due to discouragement. Samuel L. Jackson, the actor, is one prime example. The John Maxwell Company tells the story of Jackson as an example of how even the best become discouraged, but it is how they react to the discouragement that makes all the difference. By the age of 41, Jackson had only a few appearances on camera, and they were quite minor. It was his dream to become a great actor, but he felt that he would never achieve his goals. As a result, he gave up on trying to become an actor. He shortly thereafter turned to drugs, and began to throw his life away. The soon-to-be famous actor became addicted to cocaine, while married and having a beautiful little girl as his child. Jackson would eventually overdose and become unconscious. This was extremely frightening to his family. There was no guarantee he would survive.
After being treated in the hospital, Samuel L. Jackson recovered from his disabled state. He then checked into a rehabilitation clinic, and received the professional help he needed. Jackson decided to continue to receive counseling, not only for his drug problem, but also the causes of his discouragement that led him there. It became his own choice to do so. He would soon afterwards break the addiction with the help of counselors and the encouragement he received from his family. These events occurred only a year prior to Jackson becoming the famous movie star for which he is known today. From that time forward he became an inspiration and developed an impeccable reputation. He has blazed the trail for other aspiring actors.
The question was asked, “What if Jackson had not been surrounded by family and loved ones who believed in him?” If Jackson had not been surrounded in this way, we would have never been entertained by his talents, and he would have never achieved his dreams. Thankfully he had a family and a support system that pointed him in the direction where he could break free from his addiction and discouragement. Jackson bounced back because he believed in himself and was surrounded by others who believed in him. Only 12 months after going through a hell of an experience, he arrived at his destination. He would have never predicted such.
This is why you should not wallow in discouragement; no one knows what the future holds or how close one is to success. No one is above discouragement; the key is not allowing oneself to be overcome by discouragement. It may be that one’s life’s dreams are months away. Should one become overwhelmed or paralyzed with discouragement, they must never lose hope in the fact that all have the capacity to bounce back through counseling and professional resources. And finally, as a leader, one must work to save others from being overcome by discouragement either through their influence or by pointing them to the help they need. One can never predict what a person might become or achieve simply through a word of encouragement at the right time or place. You may well be the catalyst for a major success story that will inspire millions.
By: Eric Betts
Assistant Director, Curtis Coleman Center for Religious Studies and Ethics at Athens State University