I recently heard renowned Pulitzer Prize–winning author David McCullough speak on his new book, The Wright Brothers.
His talk covered a lot of territory and was inspirational on many levels. However, one quote from Wilbur Wright has stayed top of mind for me these past several weeks.
“No bird soars in a calm.”
The meaning I take from Wilbur’s quote is that we are not only strengthened by the storm, headwinds and turbulence, but we are elevated by the pressure, the prevailing winds and the forces that come upon us.
Similarly—with skill, technique and practice—the judo master uses the weight and force of an opponent to his advantage. The power of an opposing force is multiplied and leveraged to succeed.
How many days can you remember when the skies were clear, when there was no wind, no force, no pressure? Days like these are rare and should be cherished for the renewal quality they provide. But never should we expect them.
Structural tension is what architects rely on to design buildings. Tension brought about by a protagonist fighting an antagonist is what makes a film or novel interesting. And from adversity and difficulty comes great innovation, progress and success.
Wilbur Wright explained in a letter to engineer Octave Chanute: “It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill. This I conceive to be fortunate, for man, by reason of his greater intellect, can more reasonably hope to equal birds in knowledge, than to equal nature in the perfection of her machinery.”
For the Wright Brothers, every day was an opportunity to soar. Many days presented them with life-threatening risks, great expense and public ridicule. Nevertheless, the Wright Brothers changed the course of history by studying the birds, which allowed man to soar.
Our greatest U.S. presidents and world leaders soared in times of our greatest challenges, too: Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Thomas Edison and Anne Frank knew very little calm. We are all defined by the adversity we overcome.
We are no longer living—if we ever were—in a time of calm.
I challenge myself to embrace the storm, to cast out the safely moored ship from the harbor and know that the storm is when I am given an opportunity to soar.
What adversity will define you and give you the great gift in life to soar?