Finding Strength in Weakness

I recently read Arthur Brooks wonderful book, From Strength to Strength. In the book he talks about our weaknesses as human beings. And though we don’t like to admit it, we all have weaknesses.

Brooks says when you’re honest and humble about your weaknesses, you’ll be more comfortable in your own skin. He says you’ll be able to relax without worrying about being exposed as “less than.” Finally, he says, “To share your weakness without caring what others think is a kind of superpower.”

However, this means leaving what is known and comfortable, and striking out in a new direction in life. What you’ll learn, over time, is that this is a component of a humble life. And there is power in humility.

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, the most read English novelist was a man by the name of Lloyd C. Douglas. He began his adult life as a Christian pastor and then became a writer.

Five of his books were made into movies. One of the most popular, The Robe, starred Richard Burton. It won two academy awards and was nominated for best picture. He wrote a novel in 1929 entitled Magnificent Obsession which was made into a movie, twice. I had the opportunity to read this novel seven or eight years ago, and it is a fascinating book.

The story is about Dr. Wayne Hudson who is struggling with deep depression and is on the brink of failure in his work. His wife has just died, and he goes to purchase a marker for her grave. As he looks at the various monuments, he encounters an eccentric but very talented sculptor by the name of Clive Randolph. They engage in a conversation, and over time as they become more comfortable with each other, Randolph imparts a secret that he claims will transform the doctor’s life.

Though Randolph does not completely lay out this wonderful secret all at once, when you piece it together it goes like this: Most people live depleted lives; they are weak, zestless, and have very little energy. The reason, he contends, is that when we perform a good deed or some worthy achievement we want the world to know about it. We seek to advertise it and receive all the credit for it. On the other hand, when our lives are not going well and we are floundering, we carefully hide our problems and weaknesses or look for ways to deny them if we can. Randolph says that people, therefore, spend their lives pretending, always insecure and afraid of being found out.

Randolph tells Dr. Hudson that to remedy this situation and find power in his life, the simple secret is to reverse the strategy. In other words, the doctor needs to keep his great deeds and accomplishments a secret and find people with whom he was willing to be vulnerable and share with them his weaknesses, fears, and secrets. Dr. Hudson began to apply this in his own life, his depression lifted and he eventually became a famous brain surgeon.

Dr. Hobart Mowrer was a famous American psychologist who was fascinated by this novel, particularly with Randolph’s secret formula. Dr. Mowrer decided to conduct some research into the life of Lloyd C. Douglas. He spent time interviewing Douglas’s daughter, seeking to determine if her father had actually practiced Clive Randolph’s secret formula for power.

Mowrer said it was not surprising “that until he was 50 years old, Douglas was a good but not outstanding minister and then, suddenly, became and remained to the end of his life the most widely read novelist in the English language.” Mowrer concluded that if all the facts were known, Lloyd C. Douglas’s own life would dramatically testify to the power of this principle which he called “the magnificent obsession.” This is a great  example of finding strength in weakness.

Richard E Simmons III is the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Executive Leadership and a best-selling author.


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