I happened to be watching 60 Minutes with my wife the night Malcolm Gladwell was interviewed on his latest book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. As Gladwell discussed changing the way we look at obstacles, disadvantages and setbacks, I began thinking about how we should view the underdog in a different light; and better yet, how the underdog should view himself in a different light. Cheering for the underdog is a common scenario in our country (the movie Rocky with Sylvester Stallone is an all-time classic). We like to see the unlikely happen; perhaps it gives us hope for our own situation, or reaffirms one of our national founding beliefs that with enough determination and effort, anyone can be a success.
Rooting on the sidelines, however, is always easier than being the player. Unless you've been in David's position yourself, facing what seems like insurmountable odds against success, it's difficult to really understand how to proceed. Often an underdog has fallen down so much, he runs out of incentives to keep getting up. Having an outsider tell them they must keep trying soon seems pointless after repeated failures.
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In my counseling practice, "Davids" come through the door quite frequently. These are people who have not found a relationship or job that worked, and are starting to view themselves as tainted or broken. They've developed a negative self-identity, and feel there must be something wrong with them because "no one" wants to be with them. They've given up hope of ever being happy and successful in their personal or professional lives. They've fallen down so often they're no longer motivated to get back up.
My job with the underdog client is to help them climb out of the black hole they feel they're in one step at a time. In Malcolm Gladwell's interview, he points out that the Giant Goliath is a symbol of a lot of things: Never getting ahead, the big mountain to climb, that person you'd like to ask for a date, etc. What are some of your Goliaths?
People forget their failures can serve a positive purpose; that each experience is a teaching tool we can learn from, propelling us forward to our goals. I tell my clients: Look at your relationships and what hasn't worked. What was so painful? I ask them to think what's important and lovable about themselves. As they start becoming more sensitive, they begin to understand as a result of their failures they're better people. They now have more to offer.
I have had clients realize how fortunate they are in their new marriage, and become appreciative of the past failures that led them to this point. Being aware of and appreciating the little things is one of the biggest assets we encourage clients in marriage counseling to develop. Learning to appreciate each accomplishment, each step, no matter how small, can make all the difference in how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. Noticing and being grateful for the little details that improve our lives is an important start in shedding the sense of hopelessness.
As I sat on the couch with my wife (which we do every evening at home) watching 60 Minutes, I was appreciative of that moment in my own life. It's a little thing, this sitting together, but it's very meaningful and makes me feel loved.
Malcolm Gladwell's research revealed that David was not seen as believing he could win against the giant, Goliath, but the projectile of rock from his sling is thought to have traveled at the speed of a bullet from a 45 handgun. David's assets of good eye and true aim hit the mark and brought the giant's downfall. Like David, we're capable of overcoming the obstacles in our path, and continuing in the direction of our dreams.
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