It’s easy to think that simply following the old phrase “hard work breeds success” means that you’ll be able to overcome every obstacle and become successful in whatever career you decide to be in. The fact of the matter is that such undertakings are usually easier said than done. You will more than likely encounter problems and obstacles that are far more difficult than you will expect. 

This is regardless of one’s dedication – after all, you can be dedicated, but that doesn’t mean you will be prepared. Success requires two parts, dedication and preparation. Unfortunately or fortunately, not everyone will have sufficient amounts of either one in order to achieve success. I say fortunately because if everyone were successful, then there would be no context from which to differentiate yourself and make yourself more attractive to potential companies. As sad and depressing as that is, it’s a fact of life and also part of how you will attain your dream.

I bring this topic up in response to those wonder stories that we hear about in the news – of amazing, intelligent, almost perfect people who managed to drag themselves out of childhoods of despair, crushing grief and unimaginable sadness to attain their dream jobs and happiness to boot. Many of us know of some people like this, and there’s no doubt that we are somewhat envious of their success. To envy these people would also mean to envy why they became successful, and that includes their depressing and tragic backstories. 

As strange as it seems, I understand what that means. Anytime we go through obstacles in life – spanning from the most remedial to the most dangerous and lethal – people are filtered between the weak and the strong.

I finally watched the newest James Bond film, "Skyfall," last Saturday night. One scene which particularly struck me occurred when M and Bond were out in the wilderness. M stated how orphans were the best recruits, to the silent response by Bond. Such a cruel, yet true statement is one that made me think about the experiences, skills and disposition that Bond had acquired over the years – willingly or not – which allowed him to be so adept at his job of killing people without remorse or hesitation. 

I am not saying that I condone such abuse in order to give people additional “skills” – however, you can’t deny that such horrible experiences have influenced people to become what they are today. They may have negatively or positively impacted them, and the story can go either way, depending on how each person reacted to the traumatic situations and the outside influences that also intervened. For them, it was “do or die." The stress and pain they went through has, for some people, helped them mature and solidify their resolve to become better people. On the other hand, it may have made them go further into evil, repulsive and immoral actions. The topic of whether or not they made the right choice is not what I am referring to – I am focusing instead on how they managed to persevere and not give up and drop dead.

Many of us, hearing of these people and their past histories, may decide to pity them and give them much wrongly-directed attention. That is insulting; that makes it seem like they are still immature children who have not learned how difficult the world truly can be. For those who think they are too weak to attain the level of iron will and preparation that these aforementioned people have found, it is better that you admit it now instead of lying to yourself. Once you have admitted it, you can truly start and make yourself stronger. You can envy those who have overcome such obstacles and proven how much they have achieved, but don’t become so fascinated over them that you lose your own will to become better. Complaining about how uneven the odds are won’t make anything better, either. Instead, make do with the odds you have, and use that envy you have as fuel to burn away the paper-thin insults and bloated low-expectations that other people have of you.

— Jan Urbano is a junior in biological sciences. He can be reached at jurbano@utk.edu.