Our Weaknesses Could Be the Key to Our Success

Today marks the 35th anniversary of Tom Dempsey’s record-setting, 63-yard field goal in 1970.

Dempsey FG AnniversaryFor 28 years, Dempsey was the sole owner of the record until his feat was equaled by Jason Elam in 1998, then again by Sebastian Janikowski in 2011, and David Akers in 2012. On December 8, 2013, Matt Prater of the Denver Broncos topped it with a 64-yard kick against the Tennessee Titans.

I’ve known about Tom Dempsey since I was a kid for two reasons, my love of football and the circumstances with which Tom Dempsey was able to make the kick.

You see Tom Dempsey was born without toes on his right foot and no right hand. He didn’t let that stop him from chasing his dreams. In high school, he was a standout lineman, and was also on the wrestling and track teams. He made the leap to college ball, playing defensive end for a small California school.  After college, he was picked up by the New Orleans Saints.  Dempsey was fitted with a special shoe that allowed him to swing his leg and drive the ball like a polo player using a mallet, and Dempsey’s career started to thrive.

On November 8, 1970, with just seconds on the clock, Dempsey kicked the 63-yard field goal as time expired to give the Saints a 19–17 win over the Detroit Lions on November 8, 1970 at Tulane Stadium in New Orleans.

Afterwards critics claimed his custom shoe gave him an advantage. Reporters would ask him if he thought it was unfair, Dempsey would said “Unfair eh? How ’bout you try kickin’ a 63-yard field goal to win it with two seconds left an’ yer wearin’ a square shoe, oh, yeah and no toes either.”  However, when an analysis of his kick was conducted by ESPN Sport Science, it was found that his modified shoe offered him no advantage – the smaller contact area could in fact have increased the margin of error.

Tom Dempsey had some major deformities, but he didn’t let that stop him.

Two weeks ago, I went to the Fortune Growth Summit, hosted by Gazelles International and Fortune Magazine.  One speaker, David Rendell, was particularly intriguing and his message has stayed with me since.

Rendall articulated that the things that make us “different” are not problems we need to solve or disadvantages we need to eliminate. Rather he suggested that those things that make us “different” from others will often be the raw material of our lives that can provide us with our greatest sources of potential, advantage, effectiveness and joy.

There is an ancient scripture that says “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27)

I always thought if we were bad at grammar, we could become great grammar at math if we were humble.  I am not so sure anymore.  Rendell’s speech has me thinking that often our weaknesses are tied to our strengths.  Sometimes if we fix our weaknesses we diminish our strengths.

Think of this.  People go to the Leaning Tower of Pisa because it leans.  That is its weakness but also its strength.  More than 80 years ago, the Italian leader/dictator, Benito Mussolini, attempted to straighten the lean because he felt it was an embarrassment.  Luckily his efforts failed.  Government leaders today state that “It is important to keep the current tilt, due to the vital role that this element played in promoting the tourism industry of Pisa.”  One other point to consider is that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is only 182 feet tall, making it the smallest “tower” achieve worldwide recognition.  Its weakness became its strength.

Jimmy Kimmel the talk show host went to High School at Clark High here in Las Vegas.  His 10th grade math teacher said if he didn’t straighten up he wouldn’t amount to anything.

So three years ago, Kimmel was the marquee comedian during President Obama’s White House Correspondents Dinner. Kimmel wrapped up his Correspondents routine with this joke:

“I also want to thank Mr. Mills, my 10th grade high school history teacher, who said I’d never amount to anything if I kept screwing around in class. Mr. Mills, I’m about to high-five the president of the United States. Eat it, Mills.”

If he would have straightened up and changed his behavior, would he have his own show on TV? or host the President’s Correspondents dinner?

Many times the key to our or our business’ success is to accentuate the difference that is inherent in who we are or how we do things. Then our task is to find opportunities from people or organizations that value the difference we bring.

Richard Branson was labeled stupid and lazy when he was in school.  Turns out he had Dyslexia.  As he grew older and began building his business empire, he learned about the mechanics of his learning disability and adapted his management style to it. He’s made the statement many times now that  “Strangely, I think I’ve succeeded so well as a result of his dyslexia.” He is one of many with this disability that have gone on to be unusually successful.

Sally Shaywitz, a leading dyslexia neuroscientist at Yale, believes the disorder can carry surprising talents along with its well-known disadvantages. “Dyslexics are overrepresented in the top ranks of people who are unusually insightful, who bring a new perspective, who think out of the box,” says Shaywitz.

I’m starting to believe that our weaknesses could be the key to what could be our greatness.  Sometimes we need to embrace our weakness and find out how its makes us wonderful.  Be pleasantly persistent and learn how to adapt and make the most out of your challenges and you can become very successful, not just in spite of your weaknesses but maybe because of them.