Fourteen year old David was incredibly frustrated by computer illiteracy which he felt had settled over his small hometown like a black plague and killed off any chance for his happiness. “What am I going to do?” he questioned. “No one here gets it. There’s no one to help me and no one to even talk to about programming! If only we lived in a bigger place.” These were pre-Internet days. How exasperated and lonely he felt, isolated in a technology no man’s land with seemingly no resources for rescue.

Then one day he went in to browse at the local store that sold computer hardware. The store had plenty of inventory, but the owners were really just businessmen, not computer geeks with whom David could relate. Then the unforeseen occurred.

“Can I help you young man?” asked the owner. “No thanks, just looking,” David replied.

“Do you know much about computers?” inquired the man.

“Well, yes,” was David’s bold reply, “but there really isn’t much to do with them here. What we need is networking.”

“Networking!” said the man, “I’ve been reading about that. A network would help us sell computers. What would we need to do to start one?”

Well, he didn’t have to ask twice. David and he spent quite some time discussing the process of establishing a computer network in their little town. By the end of the conversation, David had a job and the computer network he dreamed of was launched. He was soon bicycling all over town helping several businesses and the Board of Education set up their networks. This is something that very likely never would have happened to him in a big city environment with plenty of computer savvy kids. He needed the experience to be gained in the “wilderness.” The knowledge David received there served as a foundation for academic and professional achievement that has taken him to the heights of computer science. He now works as a highly paid software architect for a large corporation, a far cry from the technology wasteland in which he felt so lost.

Sometimes it is from our walk in the seemingly deathly deserts of life that we derive the greatest learning. Prophets and hermits have gone to the wilderness to find meaning and inspiration. I love it when, in the book and the movie, Ben Hur is released from the desperation of the slave galley having learned what he needed to fulfill his destiny. It is inspiring to see an athlete, or a politician, or a business person come from a life of deprivation to become a great success. Often quiet, but oh so poignant, is the phoenix-like rise to well-adjusted adulthood by victims of childhood abuse. The theme of learning the most when all seems to be lost is played out over and over again in motivational fiction and, much more importantly, in real life.

When life seems hopeless, stop and contemplate. Figure out what you might learn from where you are. What does this miserable or tragic experience have to teach you? What good can you gain from this difficult time? It may not be obvious. It may take more time and further experience to finally see it, but it is there — that element which was missing from your character, which has now been placed there by the sometimes heavy, occasionally painful hand of life. Sparkling diamonds are created in oppressive heat with excessive pressure.

If you don’t learn what you need, you may be doomed to repeat some other version of the tough task, or to relive the infliction that life designed to help you see the light. It is best to get it the first time. The learning may be priceless, but the pain we would not seek. Of a particularly hard incident, I once heard a person say, “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for that experience, or give a dime to do it again.”

Granted, David’s situation was by no means life threatening, but to him it was plenty painful. As he looks back now, though, he is so grateful for the lessons of that challenging time, for the shaping of his character, and for all that he learned as he pushed through and emerged all the better.

In the depths of despair the fairest gems are discovered.