In my last post, including the related video, I spoke about releasing anger, something which is certainly healthy to do if expressed in the right way and in the right environment. But today I was reminded of how anger can also be a powerful motivator to be more in life and accomplish great things.
I just finished reading the autobiography of Stanley A. Weiss. Stanley, now in his 90s, was a “skinny Jewish kid” from Philadelphia who struggled early in life with school. After barely graduating from high school he joined the Army and prepared to be part of the attack force in the planned ground invasion of Japan. The atomic bomb “saved his life”, as the US of course didn’t invade Japan, and he was sent home to get on with life. In spite of not having finished college, much less an Ivy League university, he still managed to make his way into Jewish high society circles in early 1950s America.
As a young man he was dating a girl from a very wealthy family whose father very clearly did not want his daughter hanging out with a boy without a “proper” education. Stanley was invited for dinner at the family’s mansion one evening and, after dinner, the father invited (insisted) all guests to participate in a vocabulary contest. This was something he did quite regularly to show off his command of the English language, even though he picked all the words himself in advance.
Upon completion of the test, the host of course scored 100%, and the other well-educated guests scored in the 80s and 90s. The girl’s father took great joy in reading out each of the scores one by one and saved Stanley’s for last – announcing it with much fanfare and drama. Stanley Weiss’ score was 12%! By publicly humiliating Stanley he was sending a message to his daughter that this boyfriend of hers didn’t measure up.
Stanley was furious at the man’s behaviour, and he did in fact in time break up with the girl, but the anger he felt drove him to greater heights. He set out on a path to start learning more and more about vocabulary and the use of words, and just gaining more knowledge in general. This allowed him to, in time, feel comfortable in the company of highly educated peers, which was necessary for him to accomplish and BE who he wanted to be in life. After achieving success with a career in mining, Stanley went on to found BENS (Business Executives for National Security) a sort of high-flying think tank which promotes efficient government and people-to-people contacts globally, both within the highest levels of government and the private sector, for the benefit of the American people.
In looking back on that moment of humiliation at the hand of the girlfriend’s father, Stanley wrote in his book, “I still think of him as a monumental son of a bitch. But then again, I owe everything to him. He changed my life. He made me want to be a better person.”
So the moral of the story is to use difficult circumstances/people, rejection and failure as leverage to propel yourself to new heights. Stanley could have let that humiliation and shame keep him small and stuck in a belief that he was somehow of less value and less intellect than those in the circles he wanted to run in. But he chose to use the situation, and the anger that he felt, for empowerment. He became intent on growing in knowledge, i.e., being a more knowledgeable and learned person. That increased knowledge and education allowed him to accomplish more in life with less effort.
Note the distinction between being more versus doing/accomplishing more. Doing more will never bring lasting fulfillment. Anger can be a powerful motivator, but using it as a motivator to simply accomplish goals or tasks is a fool’s game that will never end.
What challenging circumstances or people in your life can you leverage to empower you be more?