“In the near future, couples are given the option of engineering the DNA of their offspring for perfection or they can do nothing, and see what the luck of the genetic draw brings them. But, these naturally born children of God will never be able to fulfill their dreams or gain entrance into the highest social and professional echelons of life, as corporations screen their employees based on their genetic makeup. A genetic registry instantly identifies and classifies those who have been engineered genetically (genetic valids), or conceived naturally (genetic invalids). Gattaca, 1997, Movie Review IMDB“
Imagine a future time when genetic engineering eliminates the chance to overcome challenges and to realize your full potential. There would be no more inspiring stories of overcoming disadvantage like those of Steven J. Cannell overcoming dyslexia to become a great television screenwriter, and of Ted Turner becoming a business and television mogul despite having Bipolar disease. And, what if Albert Einstein had let his failing of a school entrance exam stop him from coming up with theories of physics? Or, if Thomas Alva Edison or Ludwig Van Beethoven had let their deafness stop them from creating and inventing? Can you imagine if these persons were never allowed to approach the gate of possibility, let alone be let out of it? What a sad, impoverished world this would be.
Many things are possible when you are allowed to fail once, and twice, and to try again, in order to break through the barriers of disadvantage. In fact, the great personality theorist Alfred Adler believed that healthy living involves trying to strengthen shortcomings that may be stopping you from carrying out the life you’ve imagined for yourself. Rather than a liability, disadvantage (physical, mental, or psychological) is an advantage. It is an opening for self-improvement that develops and grows your life in deeply meaningful ways.
Take for example, my shift from singing opera to becoming a Clinical Psychologist. From early childhood, I dreamed of nothing else than becoming a professional singer. And, indeed, this is what I became. At 21-years-old, one of the world’s premier opera houses, the Chicago Lyric Opera, hired me as a full-time company singer. I thought I had hit the jackpot. I was on my way to fulfilling my lifetime dream. But, I didn’t realize that this job would actually be the point of departure from a singing career rather than its start. Health problems and a need to work full time to support myself did not permit me to extend my singing career beyond this wonderful experience.
I felt lost. I had only an education in music and was unprepared educationally and emotionally to do anything else. My vision of the life that I had imagined for myself seemed to die right there along with a singing career. “Who am I, if I’m not a singer?” I felt insecure and unprepared to do anything else. I worked for a couple of years trying to find my way, but, nothing satisfied me.
I realized that if I didn’t face my fears and deficits and return to school, I’d be stuck forever in jobs that didn’t express my full intellect and talents. I needed to expand experiences that would open me to hidden desires and abilities that would show me the next steps on my life journey. As Adler says, my insecurities became signposts that I used to move my life forward beyond this painful loss.
School took up the next ten years of my life. But, during those ten years, I discovered desires, talents and abilities that uncovered the psychologist in me. But, perhaps, more than anything that I had learned about myself, I had learned something very precious about life. By strengthening what you are insecure about, you have a chance to reconfigure the best life possible as imagined by YOU. I was on the road again, as they say, and loving every minute of it.
Thus, use disadvantage as a door opener, so that your life progresses in timely and fortuitous ways. The next time you do not know what to do to move forward in life, look to deficits and losses to find your way again. And, remember to:
- Assess the disadvantage. Most of us have at least one or two physical or mental liabilities or losses in life. Thus, select the shortcoming that will yield the greatest return in personal and professional growth, if you overcame it. You want to open up a path on your life journey that is lush with pathways for experience and development.
- Have Courage. Be like Einstein and Edison. Don’t let failures or twists and turns in finding your way stop you from trying at all. Thankfully, this isn’t the world of the film Gattaca. You still have the right to try to unfold the best life possible. Don’t waste it.
- Be Patient. Using disadvantage as a signpost for self-development takes consideration and planning. You might have to dedicate yourself to strengthening a particular limitation for some time. Remember, it took me ten years of education to become a psychologist. You have to be patient with the process and know that you are really taking the path of least resistance by attending to disadvantages that need to be addressed before you can move smoothly along your life journey.
- Pay Attention to the Process. The process of strengthening a limitation will uncover desires, talents, and abilities that point you to true purpose and meaning. Thus, don’t go out looking for gold only to get caught up in people and situations extraneous to the task on hand. If you want to find the gold (the rainbow) of this process, you have to pay attention.
- Be passionate. Love the life that you have been given. Don’t hold back. If there’s anything in life that you should pursue with abandon and passion it is the unfolding of your life journey. There’s a great part in the movie Gattaca where Vincent (a genetic invalid) and his brother Anton (a genetic valid) set out to prove to each other who is superior by seeing who has enough energy to swim farthest out to the sea. Vincent not only beats out his genetically-superior brother, but also saves Anton from drowning. When Anton asks him how he did it, Vincent replies, “I never saved anything for the swim back.”
Don’t save anything, my friends. Live your life fully, no matter any disadvantage you start out with in life. You have the power to overcome and take your place in the world in a deeply meaningful way.