"The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way." -Marcus Aurelius
"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." -Thomas Edison
The year was 1965. Tony Iommi was your typical British schoolboy. He went to classes during the day, worked part-time at a metal factory after school, and played guitar with hits mates in the evening. Iommi and his bandmates (one of whom happened to be Ozzy Osborne) were just about to launch their passion project, called Earth. On his last day at the factory, Tony accidentally and permanently severed the tips off of his right middle and ringer fingers (two of the most important fingers on his fretboard hand). As he was getting bandaged in the hospital, he was told by the doctors that he would never play again. One of his clever friends encouraged him to listen to a record of a brilliant jazz guitarist at the hospital. Only after ending the recording did he reveal that the musician only had two fingers on his fretboard hand.
With renewed fervor, Iommi began experimenting with ways to play with his damaged hand. Early on he gave up on switching to playing in a normal orientation (right hand picking while the left frets) and decided to create prosthetics for his fingers instead. Additionally, he used lighter gauged strings and tuned them lower than normal so that he could manipulate the strings more easily. He also had to adjust his playing style to compensate for his lack of sensitivity in his center digits. All of this produced one the most unique styles in rock history and gave his band, Black Sabbath, its iconic sound. Multiple famous musicians have credited him with inventing the genre we call heavy metal, and Iommi is recognized as one of the top 25 guitarists of all time. Not a bad ending for a seeming tragedy.
History is full of people like Tony Iommi - people who don’t let their setbacks and personal tragedies hold them back from achieving their dreams. Instead of accepting defeat, they put their creativity and capacity for perseverance to work and develop alternatives. They use their weakness as a source of inspiration and unique expression. In the realm of the imagination, there is no obstacle that is insurmountable if the will to continue is strong enough. I personally identify with this ethos on many levels. More than a few times I have felt like I was at rock bottom, unable to rise, only to realize that the way forward was to work with what I had been given and not against it.
If you feel stuck, downtrodden, or overwhelmed by defeat, fear not. You are not alone. Depression and desolation are normal phases in the arc of overcoming hardship. This is the parable of Job - our reminder of the power of belief. It is at the moment that you think things can get no worse, that faith can truly find you. For Tony, that spark came in the form of an encouraging friend, but it can take any form. Finding just the smallest step forward is all you need to focus on when you are at your wit’s end. What is the one thing that you can make better today that will make tomorrow brighter? If you are having trouble answering even that simple question, I would suggest simply smiling, and then trying to make someone else smile too. Your actions have the ability to shape the future. Whether you choose to create beauty or tear it down is up to you.