John Gardner delivered this great speech to a group of consultants at Mckinsey & Co. Below is a snippet that resonated with me:
We cannot dream of a Utopia in which all arrangements are ideal and everyone is flawless. Life is tumultuous – an endless losing and regaining of balance, a continuous struggle, never an assured victory.
Nothing is ever finally safe. Every important battle is fought and re-fought. We need to develop a resilient, indomitable morale that enables us to face those realities and still strive with every ounce of energy to prevail. You may wonder if such a struggle – endless and of uncertain outcome – isn’t more than humans can bear. But all of history suggests that the human spirit is well fitted to cope with just that kind of world.
Remember I mentioned earlier the myth that learning is for young people. I want to give you some examples, In a piece I wrote for Reader’s Digest not long ago, I gave what seemed to me a particularly interesting true example of renewal. The man in question was 53 years old. Most of his adult life had been a losing struggle against debt and misfortune. In military service he received a battlefield injury that denied him the use of his left arm. And he was seized and held in captivity for five years. Later he held two government jobs, succeeding at neither. At 53 he was in prison – and not for the first time. There in prison, he decided to write a book, driven by Heaven knows what motive – boredom, the hope of gain, emotional release, creative impulse, who can say? And the book turned out to be one of the greatest ever written, a book that has enthralled the world for ever 350 years. The prisoner was Cervantes; the book: Don Quixote. “