The Power of Adversity: Steven Slater vs. Stevie Ray Vaughan

Recently, I listened to an interview held with guitar legend, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. Texas-born Vaughan was the master of blues guitar, and his creativity and improvisational style put him in an exclusive group with such talented contemporary musicians as Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.

During the interview, Stevie talked about his first and only real job, one where he worked as a twelve-year old dishwasher in a small restaurant. His boss asked him to take a hose and spray down the sides of large barrels of old fryer grease that were stored out back. The best way to clean them was to stand on a wood plank directly over the barrels. While in this position, the rotted board cracked under Stevie’s feet, and the boy fell into the rancid oil up to his chest. Once Stevie got out, his boss stood over him, shaking her head.

“You’re fired,” she told him as she turned and headed back inside.

How did Stevie Ray Vaughan handle the disappointment? Did Stevie go Steven Slater all over the place?

Steven Slater, you recall, was the Jet Blue flight attendant who went nuts when a passenger accidentally him in the head with her bag while opening the overhead storage bin. Slater mouthed off on the intercom, grabbed a few beers, and deployed the emergency slide before making a dramatic exit from the plane.

Both Steven and Stevie “suffered” from occupational hazards inherent to their jobs. Steven, subjected to rude passengers; Stevie, falling into a vat of putrescence.

Both considered these events life changing, defining moments. Steven, a hero to the working class for his dramatic exit, then subsequently arrested; Stevie, a completely unknown, slime-covered kid, subsequently inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame (one of only 79 musicians) and ranked #7 by the Rolling Stone‘s Top 100 Guitarist of All Time.

But there are differences, too. Steven quit; Stevie was fired. Steven dealt with his adversity by acting like a 2-year old with a full and stinky diaper; Stevie said “That’s cool.” Steven used his 15-Minutes of Fame to try to get another 15-Minutes on a reality TV show; Stevie used his 15 minutes of stink as a catalyst to create music of lasting beauty. Steven did what some people say “I wish I had the guts to do!” when they are miserable in a job; Stevie did what most never have the character to do–purpose to be the best at something.

In the end, maybe Steven Slater will get his own TV show, but I can’t imagine him being anything more than another Kato Kaelin in a few years.

And Stevie Ray Vaughan? He had the maturity to be grateful for his experience in a less than desirable job.

How do you handle adversity?

In truth, most jobs contain elements of stink. You can contribute to the stench by filling your own diaper like Steven. But if you use the Power of Adversity to wash off the filth, shake off the disappointment, and jump on the path where your true passion lies.

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