Is it possible to embrace one’s weakness in such a way that it becomes a strength?

The other day we were listening to a TED talk about the life and challenges of an artist named Phil Hansen. While in art school, he developed a shake in his hand that eventually lead to him quit art for several years. He described it as the destruction of his dream to become an artist. During this time, he struggled with the thought of losing his sense of purpose as a result of his hand shake. However, during an appointment with his neurologist, he experienced a paradigm shift when it was suggested that he “embrace the shake.” He recalls that “this was the first time I’d encountered this idea that embracing a limitation could actually drive creativity.” In fact, the main point of his talk was to demonstrate the many ways that his limitation drove his creativity and his art to new heights.

In a strange way, Phil Hansen’s journey reminds me of the point that Marcus Buckingham & Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D. made in their book “Now Discover Your Strengths” makes. All of them encourage their audience to rethink how they view challenges, particularly their weaknesses. However, the argument of “Now Discover Your Strengths” is founded on a reaction that too many of us “become experts in our weakness and spend our lives trying to repair these flaws, while our strengths lie dormant and neglected.” The book encourages you to go against that conventional way of thinking and spend more time building your strength rather than your weaknesses.

Hansen also challenges our paradigm in a similar way, but rather than spending time strengthening ones weakness, or embracing one strength, he encourages his audience to embrace their limitations and allow them to drive ones creativity. He encourages his audience to do something called “thinking inside the box” verses outside the box.

Think Inside the Box

When encounter a problem, many of us quickly suggest that they need to “think outside the box.” By using that phrase, we are basically trying to encourage them to be creative. In fact because we are a team building company we often encourage such thinking. Typically it is because a group has encountered a road block in their thinking about a problem.

So when Hansen brought up the concept of thinking inside the box, having never encountered the idea before, it caused us to pause and consider what it meant. Inside our box we are confronted by and encouraged to use the very challenge, weakness or limitation that we previously saw as the problem as the very source that will help us to develop a solution. It’s embracing the problem, with the resources that we know and are familiar with, to create new solutions.

So what does embracing the shake practically look like?

For us it is personal. And it is found in a person, and its form emerged from a tragedy that happened a year ago. On July 17, 2012, Stephen “a.k.a. Coach Mack” Mackintosh tragically suffered a severe cervical spinal cord injury while riding his bike home from work.

Because of this experience he has a unique perspective on embracing limitations that we find to be very illuminating. He states that “embracing one’s limitations is his life. In many ways, it’s more exciting than frustrating because of the challenge.” However, instead of calling it embracing the shake, he likes to call it “embracing the challenge,” or “embracing the adventure, ” something that he has done all his life even before his accident.

Whether while climbing Mount McKinley, biking across the United States or in starting Group Dynamix, he has always embraced challenges in his life. This is why it has been so inspiring for us to watch our leader and coach “embrace his new adventure” with creativity, humor and tenacity over this past year.

Here are some of our reflections:

“Last year when Mack was injured, it was one of the saddest days I’ve ever experienced. From the initial concern whether or not he would survive his injuries to the subsequent concern of how he would cope with catastrophic spinal injuries made the day memorably depressing. Many tears and prayers were shared that day and many days after, and looking back it was hard to imagine any outcome for Mack that wasn’t painful to think about. In fact, it seemed hopeless. Too much damage had occurred. The challenges seemed insurmountable. Well, enter “Team Mackintosh.” What’s extraordinary about the past year is how Mack took a concept we thought we understood perfectly because of the business we are in and gave us a real life lesson that will forever change how we view “team.” He expanded it to include more than just one group of people. In fact, his “team” included God and family and friends from all over, and the inner workings of that larger group is what he claims sustained him during his most difficult times and encourages him to work hard to recover. If you think about it, that’s common sense. Sometimes problems can’t be solved by one or two people, not one group of people, not one community, etc. You build your team with the objective in mind, and you pick your players accordingly. Mack had a big problem and he picked the greatest healer – God – and a lot of people who, out of their love for him, committed to help him in every way possible to get better. The results have been remarkable. Mack has accomplished much in the past year – physically, mentally and spiritually. His positive outlook is inspirational to us and any with whom he comes in contact. He’s not out of his wheelchair or functioning the way he wants to, but he is making good progress and he has “Team Mackintosh” at his side, and the future is not hopeless or depressing. It’s pretty bright from his perspective. And that’s truly amazing thinking how things were just one year ago today.”
– Ken Fleming, Owner and Partner of Group Dynamix

“For almost my entire life I have known Coach Mack as the fun, silly, adventurous guy. During the first couple of years employed at Group Dynamix, I watched him bike to and from work, saw pictures of his skydiving expedition, and heard tales of the famous Mackintosh family vacations. There was nothing he couldn’t accomplish. Last summer it seemed all of this would change. As we learned of Mack’s condition and became aware that he would be bound to a wheelchair, the fear within all of us grew. What could we say? Why did this have to happen? How will this affect Mack as our leader and as our friend? Strangely enough, the anxiety to find words and actions of comfort began to diminish when Mack began to speak. He soothed us with familiar conversations to guide and strengthen us. He smiled and cracked jokes when we tried to hold back our tears. Each visit it became more obvious that God had a plan for Mack. This was just the beginning of his adventure.
The past year, his dedication to live passionately has been overwhelming. Mack had always told us the significance of the motto: Event + Reaction = Outcome. But I never truly understood this equation until now. I see our courageous leader find creative ways to overcome the challenges in front of him, and it reminds me how important it is to be grateful. It reminds me that in life we are never really in control, but we can control our attitude about the obstacles we face. Mack has faced a challenge greater than any of us can fully understand, but it seems an addition to the equation has made him stronger than ever: Event + Reaction + God’s Love = Outcome. I am grateful to witness the adventure God has planned for him.”
– Katie Fleming, Office Director

“I rarely – if ever – have seen Mack in a bad mood for the 15 years I have known him. This included going to see him in ICU right after the accident. To see the way that he greeted us by waiving his tongue and giving us a huge smile was heart breaking. I knew he had to be in tremendous pain, he had multiple machines, tubes and hoses all over the place. I had never before experienced that environment. How could someone in that state be so happy and excited? I realize that it was because he was thinking of us and our comfort level, not his own. He has always been a leader, and a great one. He understood that it was hard for us to see our leader fallen. He knew that we were scared, uncomfortable, worried, even squeamish – he wanted us to be comforted, relaxed and at ease. He was loving us and thinking of our needs before his own, truly showing the love of Christ.
It is so easy for us to focus on our own needs, desires, comforts, and wants. But that is not how we are called by God to live. I have seen through Mack the benefit of loving and serving others and the way he cares for everyone around him. It causes people to take a step back and ask the questions “what do I really have to complain about?” What if we all did that – loved our neighbor as we do ourselves?”
– Caleb Collins, Program Director

“The best way that I can say that Mack has inspired me is the fact of his constant consistency in character. The phrase, “you need to put on your big boy pants,” is his staple. I can’t tell you how much he has used that phrase on me on several occasions, especially one moment in my life that I was down and out in life. But in every moment he always gave solutions to how to climb out of that situation and he helped you through when asked.

Since his accident, I have always seen him wear his big boy pants. He has never complained. He has never not gone after anything and he has never backed down from any of the physical or emotional struggles that he has faced. To see him live out something he has always taught means so much. Just to know that there is a better way to look at something and live it out has been an incredible experience of motivation for me. To say that he was an inspiration is not enough. He is my mentor and friend.” – Barry Thompson, Program Director

Thank you Coach Mack for showing us how to embracing the challenge! You are a true inspiration to all of us and we are privileged to have you in our lives.