Overcoming adversity: Is it the root of ambition?

It was a beautiful day, about 5 p.m., and I was sitting under the Interstate 93 overpass on Candia Road in Manchester, waiting for the light to change. (Is it true our state flower here in New Hampshire is the traffic light?). In any case, I was listening to Hector Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique, and it was just getting to the really wonderful movement when BAAAAM!!! I got hit from behind by a delivery van.

The light changed, and I moved ahead a hundred yards or so to where we could pull over without impeding traffic. The driver was very apologetic, saying he was very sorry at least three times. That was a definite improvement.

You see, the last time I got hit from behind, I was at a light on Loudon Road in Concord. That guy gave me grief for being stopped, even though there were people in front of me and the light was red. I quickly told him to stop screaming and shut off his blaring radio or I was calling the cops. In retrospect, I probably should have called them. There was something strange about that guy and his passengers.

In any case, my new assailant was a definite improvement over his predecessor. The damage to the car was worse, and my neck is still sore, but he was so polite and apologetic. As we exchanged information, I overheard him speaking what I thought might be Russian on his cellphone, so I asked where he was from. He was from the Ukraine. He had called his father to ask for advice. He spoke flawless English with no detectable foreign accent. Although angry about the accident, I was impressed with this young man.

When I spoke with the owner of the delivery company, I made sure to tell him about the courtesy of his driver. His response was, “I have his brother working for me too. I wish I could hire a dozen of them!”

I couldn’t resist and countered with, “Why can’t we raise kids like that in this country?”

There was a pause followed by, “That’s a good question!” So we chatted about it for a few minutes. The influence of TV and commercials came out pretty high. That stuff our young people call music was another big detractor. Both parents working, the education system, negative peer pressure and other factors really stack the deck against kids growing up with the right attitude, education and skills.

We’re not just losing jobs to people offshore; we’re losing jobs to foreigners right here. Please note that labor costs are not a factor in this case. Our Ukrainian emigre isn’t paid any less than his American counterparts. In fact, it sounds like he’s worth more to his employer.

OK, he’s not a scientist brought over on a H-1B visa, but he’s still worthy of our attention. This kid will go far. His courtesy, demeanor and attitude will serve him well, and lots of successful people have started much lower.

This got me thinking. When people immigrate to our country, they often arrive not knowing the language – an obstacle to be overcome. There are other obstacles as well, differences in culture, possible discrimination, new ways of doing things, etc. Yet so many immigrants do far better than many of us who were born here. Have you ever wondered why?

Perhaps practice in overcoming obstacles might have something to do with it. Just to get the money to come here can be a formidable task in itself.

So how are you bringing up your kids? Are you trying to spare them many of the troubles with which you struggled? Are you trying to give them everything you never had? Do you think that’s really good for them? Unless you’re planning on leaving them a pretty significant trust fund, they’re probably going to have to compete with people who have learned to overcome adversity to make a living. Are you giving them a fair chance? Do they ever get opportunities to practice overcoming adversity?

What about your employees, especially the new ones? Do you bring them in on easy street, or do you give them some challenges on which to practice?

Americans are so used to being No. 1 we’ve failed to notice much of the world passing us by. I haven’t been overseas for a few years, but the comparison of my two assailants brought back the discouragement I often felt coming home. We used to be better; other countries are better. Why can’t we keep up with them any more?

Do you have any foreign friends or colleagues with whom you can compare yourself? What can they do that would be helpful for you to learn? It may not be easy, but it will probably be worth the effort.

Ronald J. Bourque is a consultant and speaker from Windham. He has had engagements throughout the United States as well as in 12 nations in Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 898-1871; fax 894-6539; bourq@att.net; bourqueai.com.

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