Many years ago, when I tried my hand at multilevel marketing, I attended huge motivational events designed to make you more productive. I am not sure how productive they made me, but I definitely was able to see my faults in wide-screen and panoramic color.
One evening, a man came on stage with a manila folder on his head. At first, he tried to disguise the fact that he had a folder on his head by trying to hide behind things. Finally, he slouched down, pulled the folder down over his ears and announced, “I have a folder on my head.” Everyone in the auditorium laughed. For about five minutes, he berated himself because he had a folder on his head. “No one will listen to me. I have a folder on my head.” “I will never be successful. I have a folder on my head.”
By this time, the audience was roaring with laughter. We were not laughing at him. We recognized the point he was trying to make and could see our own folders. We were putting our weaknesses out there for everyone to see, and the obvious answer was, “Get the senseless folder off your head and move on.”
I never became a great salesman, but the lesson was not wasted. I learned that we all wear proverbial folders on our heads. Some folders are excuses; some are not. Some are afflictions life throws at us in the most inopportune time. Some are physical or mental disabilities. Some are family situations; others are tragedies. Some are not folders we can remove by self-discipline. Some we must wear throughout our lives. The trick is to realize you have a folder and be grateful for the lessons it will teach you, no matter what kind of folder it is.
As we consider the lives of the pivotal characters in history who changed the world, it is not easy to see the folders they wore on their heads. We see their great achievements and look at them with awe. They must have had the Angel of Fortune slapping them on the back every step of the way, but if we look closely at their histories, we can see plainly they had folders to contend with, just like you and me.
With only a few years of formal education, Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb, pioneered the power grid, shaped the music industry with his phonograph and produced the modern film industry with his invention of the movie camera. He could have said, “I’m not educated. I can’t do anything special.” He could have worn that folder and let it his shape his life, but he chose not to. The lack of education might have been a blessing. Perhaps the static rigors of academics might have stifled his creativity. Maybe his lack of education gave him the desire to prove something. In any case, he chose not to wear a folder as an excuse.
Alexander Graham Bell wore a folder that could have made him feel inferior and worthless. He had two deaf parents. In his time, disease and handicaps were often considered a curse from God. He could have pulled that folder down over his ears and said, “My parents were bad people, so I must be bad.” He didn’t do that. He set out to invent a way for his parents to hear. He didn’t even recognize the telephone as something special because it wasn’t what he was looking for, but his discovery changed the face of history forever.
Henry Ford was extremely shy and was surrounded by people he recognized as smarter than himself. People laughed at him for working on his invention. He could have looked at the folder on his head and determined, “I’m not that smart. Everyone I know is smarter than I am. This contraption – a horseless carriage – I’m dreaming about probably won’t work, so why try?” History proves that Ford capitalized on the fact that other people were smarter than himself. He sought their intelligence and expertise, and used it to his advantage. He readily accepted their advice if it pushed his plan forward. He used his folder to his advantage and changed the world.
Marie Curie discovered radium and polonium, and her work was a key factor in the discovery of how to “quantitatively measure radioactivity” and its effect on cells. She is considered one of the great scientists of all time. Yet Madame Curie had many folders of her own. She grew up in Poland as the daughter of a poor family, and she was born in a time when women were considered second-class citizens. She could have embraced her folders and quietly faded into history, but she decided to push past the obstacles and make a difference.
Amelia Earhart was raised by an alcoholic father. Her family was booted from their home because of her father’s debts. Her folder could have been firmly fixed by saying, “Daddy is an alcoholic, and it is in my genes. I can’t help myself.” She could have become an alcoholic like her father. Yet she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic and became a famous author who inspired others with her stories. Her excuses became her inspiration.
Rosa Parks was slapped with an unfair folder from the minute she was born. She could have accepted it and wore it throughout her life, but she was made of sterner stuff. She could see the injustices around her and would not be put down. When she did not move to the back of the bus as society dictated, she removed her folder and took her equal place in society. Through her tenacity, she paved the way for all African-Americans to receive civil rights.
History is filled with people who have worn folders but chose to make their folder an asset instead of a liability. I think of Joseph, who was sold into Egypt. His life was a circus of folders. He was sold by his brothers, betrayed by a woman, cast into prison unfairly and forgotten by his friends. Joseph had every reason to say, “What is the use? God has forgotten me. Those dreams I had when I was young about my family bowing to me were the foolishness of childhood. Woe is me. I have a folder on my head.” God did not forget Joseph. From the depths of despair, Joseph rose to second-in-command in Egypt, almost overnight. The overarching folder of his life was not a fodder for excuses but God’s training ground. Removing folders made Joseph stronger and wise enough to change the world.
The minute our eyes open on a new day, we have a choice to make. We can look at the folders we have on our head, and say, “Woe is me. I choose to be a victim of other people’s criticism for one more day.” Or we can say, “So what! I have a folder on my head. This morning, I am going to look in the mirror and take it off. If I can’t remove it, I am going to wear it with pride. God has allowed me to have this folder to make me strong for some future purpose. I am not going to mess up His plan by spending my days wallowing in self-pity.”
God has a plan for each of us. We don’t know right now what great things will come from overcoming our weaknesses. We can’t see the lessons of life we will gain as we learn to abandon our folders. Tragically, we miss those lessons and wisdom if we complain, “I have a folder on my head. Poor me! Everyone is looking at me and judging me. I can’t do anything great because I have this folder on my head.” It only becomes a magnificent journey when we look at our folders and say, “Now is my time to sparkle!
I have a folder. What does God want me to accomplish with it? What contribution can I make to society? How can I change the world around me? I may not be an inventor, a pilot, a great scientist or a social change agent, but I have something to do. I will find it and put my feet squarely on the path to success. Nobody has a folder just like mine. I will make the most of it!”
ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by Ray Merritt.
Yevet Crandell Tenney is a Christian columnist who loves American values and traditions. She writes about faith, family and freedom.