Irwin Kahn from Franklin, Ohio, wrote to Dear Abby. When he was ten years old, he said, his mother sent him to a children's home. She kept his younger brother and sister, but got rid of him, and she even told him why: He was too much of a troublemaker. He was, of course, hurt by this.
He was an emotional mess for awhile and developed a severe stuttering problem. But he had been assigned a "Big Brother" and the staff of the children's home were good people, and this combination helped him develop some inner strength and a sense of values.
At age seventeen, he left the children's home to make his way in the world. "I educated myself," he said, "overcame my stuttering, became a successful corporate CEO, and now enjoy multimillionaire status. I retired at 52."
What seemed a terrible disadvantage — getting booted out at age ten, rejected by your own mother — might have actually been to his advantage. It might have been one of the best things that could have happened to him.
This conclusion seems so much the opposite of what most people would think, but let's look at this for a moment. Because his mom sent him away, he came into the care of people who were devoting their lives to helping others. He came under the influence of a Big Brother, who voluntarily and out of genuine kindness, spent time to help a young person.
If his mother had not abandoned him, Kahn would probably never have met these people or been influenced by them. His mom may have been a terrible influence on him. She may have been a cold-hearted, uncaring mother.
The actor Edward James Olmos grew up in East L.A. and his parents divorced when he was seven. He lived in a three-room house (including the kitchen) with a dirt floor. Eleven people lived there.
Olmos is one of those who made the best of how things turned out. "Some people say they didn't have a choice," he says, "They're poor or brown or crippled. They had no parents. Well, you can use any one of those excuses to keep your life from growing. Or you can say, 'Okay, this is where I am, but I'm not going to let it stop me. Instead, I'm gonna turn it around and make it my strength.' That's what I did."
SUGAR CANE SAVIOR
We're talking about learning to have the attitude of finding or making an advantage out of a disadvantage. Learning to say "That's good!" no matter what happens, and by your actions making it good. Another way of saying this is to convince yourself that, "Trouble brings the seeds of good fortune."
This is not wishful thinking or positive thinking. This is not hoping that things will magically turn out. This is a commitment to making things turn out well.
When the energy crisis hit in the 1970s, Brazil was hurt badly. Oil imports were taking half the available foreign currency, and they were heavily in debt. The country was in serious trouble. But because of the trouble, they had to look elsewhere for fuel. And they didn't need to look any further than their own back yard.
One of the things Brazil had was a huge sugar cane crop. So they used it to make alcohol, and began converting their energy economy to burning alcohol. Today, 90% of cars sold in Brazil run on alcohol, which burns much more cleanly than gas.
The trouble brought seeds of good fortune to Brazil. Because alcohol became their chief fuel, air quality in their cities improved.
The sugar cane is ground to a pulp, and the juice is extracted and fermented. The processing plants also had a problem: All the juiceless pulp. They had to pay garbage collectors to take it away.
Trouble again brought seeds of good fortune. Uses were found for the pulp. They burned it and used the heat to make electricity, relieving the necessity of building new dams on the Amazon river — dams that cause flooding and environmental damage. And burning the pulp adds no permanent carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, because the growing plants absorb as much as is released in the burning. The pulp is also made into a nutritious feed for cattle.
The idea that trouble brings the seeds of good fortune can make itself true. If you think you can make an advantage out of a disadvantage, you may try, and if you try, you increase the odds of it happening.
But if you close your mind to the situation — if you make up your mind it is just bad — you are less likely to think of a way to turn it to your advantage.
You have something to gain and nothing to lose by taking this idea — that trouble contains the seeds of good fortune — and burning it into your mind. Make it an automatic part of your thinking. Have it so ingrained that it is your first thought when trouble comes your way. It will give you power to overcome difficulties and prevent life from sinking you into the quicksand of despair.
If you want to get fast results, try this: Repeat this idea to yourself, and while you do, allow images of any trouble happening now in your life to come into your mind's eye. Think about what has upset you lately. Think about what bothers you. Think about anything in your life right now you don't like. And while you do, repeat this idea steadily and calmly and matter-of-factly.
You truly don't know what good fortune may develop out of "trouble." You don't know yet what advantages you may derive from what now seems like a disadvantage. But commit yourself to it and you may find what you seek. The commitment will change your mood right away, and when you actually find an advantage, that will also improve your mood.
Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of Viewfinder: How to Change the Way You Look at Things.