How Exposure To Poverty & Trial-By-Fire Can Be Deliberately Used To Prepare People To Succeed

Poverty often manifests in form of a lack of money, and painfully limited access to basic necessities and conveniences. People born into poverty often find early responsibility and attendant hardship thrust on them as a result. Biographies have been written of great men and women who in their formative years, had to help their parents out by doing odd jobs to earn income to feed the family (Walt Disney for instance sold newspapers as a child to complement his father's efforts).

But just as their situation caused (often serious) pain, it also toughened them because they learnt to "fight" to get what they wanted – sometimes driven by the knowledge that their parents or siblings waited at home for them to return with "something" .

This acceptance of early responsibility, and the fighting spirit / mental stamina they developed over time became useful qualities, when they turned their attention to their chosen vocations. Walt Disney's early struggles for instance, must have taught him the discipline of hard work, which helped him relentlessly pursue his dreams to build an empire that survives till today.

Austin "Jay-Jay" Okocha while being interviewed on a radio program (I recall vividly) said " All I know is Jay-Jay Okocha sold Oranges on the streets of Lagos ". Think about it a minute. This is a man who accomplishments in his profession (football) cannot be ignored internationally. Yet, when confronted with evidence of widespread adoration for him based on those achievements he chose to recall what could probably qualify to be called the most humbling moments in his entire lifetime.

As has been confirmed by numerous research studies, and real-life stories of other great people, periods of adversity can often bring out the best in a person to the point that s / he develops qualities that will ultimately enable him / her archive notable success in the future. Okocha, by that statement obviously recognized those harrowing days of living in a single room with his mother and sisters and selling oranges to sustain them, as instrumental to the development of the never-say-die mental attitude that led him to achieve success and fame as a footballer.

"Poverty" Can Be Deliberately Used To Develop Talent In People

Poverty imposes severe lack of resources which the affected person (s) need to function effectively in their current situation. I believe the concept of "poverty" can be extended beyond the more common one that relates to poor people, and applied in a more general sense.

You could for instance talk about poverty of "good leadership", which may result in slow development in a nation or poor performance of a company. In essence I am saying that poverty can be translated to mean "lack" (deliberate or accidental) of resources or environment normally required for effective functioning of an individual, group or organization.

Going by what has already been said above, it follows that deliberately putting individuals or groups into controlled environments of "poverty" and / or "hardship" similar to those they are likely to encounter in real-life, can help them develop "survival skills and abilities "that they can successfully use to achieve improved performances at work / in life, even when their actual circumstances are limiting.

For instance, it is well known that creativity tends to flourish when there are limited resources, which force people to explore alternative routes to achieve their intended goals. Without the challenge introduced in form of the removal of ready access to the needed resources, most people would rather not apply any sustained intellectual effort towards finding a better way to do the same thing.

The above principle is used in military training. Soldiers are exposed to various adverse conditions which if they successfully undergo make them tougher and readier to meet the "enemy". The use of simulators in various spheres of training endeavors (eg pilot training etc), also provides some evidence that this is an approach that has proven merit.

In summary, "poverty" imposes the test of "Trail By Fire" on persons born / thrust into it, equipping those who "pass", with competencies that help them excel later on in life. Organizations (and even societies) which want to develop high performing members can learn from nature and utilize the "Trial By Fire" approach (like some progressive ones already do) to develop management talent of their people, and ultimately record exceptional employee performances.

Steps You Can Take To Develop Talent Using The "Poverty / Trial-By-Fire" Approach

1. Create a deliberate atmosphere of lack (ie artificial scarcity) or hardship. THEN Demand those in it to deliver the same results that would be expected if they had all that they needed.

For instance if you want to start up a new arm of your company, rather than let the parent company give the managers of the new company ALL the money and resources they need, it would be smarter to give them a little, and then challenge them to find their own feet by working hard to start earning income, as quickly as possible, to keep going.

That way, they get to learn the important (and sometimes harsh / hard) lessons that you learnt and which enabled you build the parent company to the level at which spinning off new subsidiaries like theirs become possible. Lessons that will equip them to run the NEW company profitably.

2. Watch out for the reactions of those who are challenged in this way – Note those who reject the assignment. Identify those who take action to get the described results by improvising and being creative.

3. Decide on the next level of challenge (s) to throw at your "proteges" – depending on the course on how they have responded up to this point.

4. Take them out to the real world and see if they put what they have learnt / discovered to use as the opportunities to do so arise.

5. Provide qualitative, experience based feedback . Those you put through this process will need guidance from someone with the right mix of knowledge and experience, to make "sense" of what they have gone through. You will ensure that they get this guidance by way of feedback delivered in a manner that enhances each person's self-esteem, thus boosting enthusiasm to work harder to achieve the needed learnings / results.


The concept of "Trial By Fire" as described in this article can be successfully applied in different social settings – be it at home with your kids, in the workplace with employees etc. One must however always remember that the ultimate purpose of a "Trial By Fire" approach is to help those to whom it is applied discover and / or develop FURTHER their innate abilities and capabilities, to the point where they can truly function at their FULL potential .

No matter how we look at it, helping people to perform at their optimal best is the most important way to bring about progress and development. The "Trial By Fire" approach provides a tested and proven "fast-track" avenue through which these valuable twin goals can be achieved.

FINAL WORDS: Some parents who rose from lowly beginnings where they had to overcome severe hardships to achieve notable successes sometimes vow they will never let their own kids suffer the way they (the parents) did. In a sense this feeling is understandable.

The problem however is that in trying to make sure your kids do not "suffer", you may end up making them "weak" – by over protecting them – so that they grow up incapable of withstanding challenges that life may throw at them in their Bid to achieve their own goals.

You need to realize that YOUR contact with poverty and its attendant hardships contributed significantly to making you capable of overcoming those challenges. If you really want to help your kids, you may need to seriously consider periodically exposing them to similar experiences in ways that will teach useful lessons they can draw upon later in life.

This article has described some potentially useful approaches you can adopt in order to help your kids learn those empowering lessons.

Source by Tayo Solagbade

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