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Zen masters have posed the question, “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” They should have asked Jim Abbott.

Jim Abbot is a former baseball pitcher who spent ten years in the major leagues, jumping from amateur ball to the majors as a first round draft pick.  He threw a no-hitter against the Cleavland Indians while pitching for the NY Yankees in 1993. Jim was born with his right hand missing.

Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius was born with a congenital deformity requiring amputation of both of his legs just below his knees. Undaunted, Carl began running at an early age. At the 2008 Summer Paralympics, he took the gold medals in the 100, 200 and 400 meter sprints. He qualified for 2011 World Championships and the 2012 Olympics.

These are but two examples of the many people who were born with physical handicaps and have taken themselves to great heights. I could list many more who have achieved greatness in sports, business, academics, and other walks of life despite their challenges.

Additionally, there are many others who have endured psychological, economic, political, and circumstantial hardships and have risen to prominence. And there are countless more who, while not reaching prominence, have in their own world dealt with adversity with grace, style, and courage.

I have long been curious about what motivates some people who have various hardships, life stresses, or circumstance as challenge to be overcome, while others facing similar circumstances fall into despair and self-pity.

What is it about both the extraordinary and the ordinary people who have overcome adversity and have gone on to live exemplary lives, while others, some of whom had the advantages of education, economic success, and health, frequently end up feeling sorry for themselves, unhappy, and unfilled? Another question is why is it that some people who face extraordinary life challenges embrace them with gusto and rise to great heights while others, even those with less extreme challenges, become dissolute, depressed, and retreat from life?

What can we learn from those who have obtained fulfillment despite their circumstances and apply this information to our own lives? Most people find their lives somewhere between the extremes, their challenges are less severe than either Jim’s or Oscar’s.

Jim Abbott did not view his one-handedness as a handicap. He viewed it as a challenge. According to his biography, he was teased and picked on as a child. He was viewed as different and strange by his peers; that is, until he was able to show them what he was made of. He played all sports giving them each his best, excelling in baseball. Now that his baseball career is over, he is re-creating himself as an author and motivational speaker. Oscar is still running with his prosthetic legs and winning races.

How would you handle being born with one hand missing? Would you have felt sorry for yourself or would you have learned to pitch? If you were born with no legs would you have become a runner or would you be begging in the street with a paper cup?  It is difficult to say what we would do in similar circumstances, but we can look at our life as it is and ask:

  • Do I count my blessings and make the most of my opportunities? Is my cup half empty or half full? Am I grateful for the cheese or do I only see the holes?
  • How do I deal with the challenges that I face? Do I deal with them with courage, grace, determination, and style?
  • Do I work toward overcoming challenges and embrace the blessings that I do have or do I feel sorry for myself and envy others who seem to more than I have?
  • When confronted with a life challenge do I ask myself (and perhaps others) how can I best deal with the challenge and grow from it?
  • Do I embrace my life, confront my challenges, and celebrate my successes?

Can you hear the sound of one hand clapping?

*****

[Dr. Dreyfus is a nationally recognized clinical psychologist, relationship counselor, sex therapist, and life coach in the Santa Monica – Los Angeles. The profits from his latest book, LIVING LIFE FROM THE INSIDE OUT along with his other five books, are being donated to charity through the website Book Royalties for Charity and can be purchased through Amazon.com. Please become a friend on his Facebook Fan Page by indicating “like” on the page by clicking here. You can also find more tools to help you experience a more fulfilling life by clicking here to visit his website.]