Diamonds are the products of intense pressure applied to one of most common substances on earth, carbon. But not all carbon that undergoes such pressure becomes a diamond at all, let alone one of great value. Without the pressure, carbon just remains common carbon.
Brad Bannon was a little-known defense attorney when several young, white, privileged college athletes were accused of rape by an African American woman. The case seemed like a slam-dunk for conviction. The defendants were unsympathetic. The media reveled in every salacious detail against them. The prosecutor was cocky and so self-assured he practically sneered and guaranteed victory before the nation. But Bannon, the junior attorney, buried himself studying DNA science and unlocked a secret: the prosecutor was hiding evidence of the young athletes’ innocence.
That prosecutor was Mike Nifong; the case was the infamous Duke lacrosse trial. Bannon’s relentless pursuit of the facts changed the game entirely and prevented innocent men from having their lives destroyed and their freedom taken away from them.
Attorney and entrepreneur Terry Giles relates this and many other similar stories in his book The Fifteen Percent: Overcoming Hardships and Achieving Lasting Success.
The number in the title comes from Giles’ observations during the Catholic sexual abuse scandal. Giles represented hundreds of the accusers in the case that spanned eight long, arduous years. The vast majority of the victims had their lives destroyed by the abuse they suffered at the hands of priests they and their parents trusted absolutely. But a minority, about 15 percent, went on to lead successful lives. For the majority, suffering unspeakable tragedy upended them. But Giles observed that for the 15 percent, the terrible abuse either did not permanently derail them or it actually propelled them to succeed. They were unstoppable and would have succeeded under any circumstances, Giles writes. Tragedy, rather than destroying them, was a near-miss that left them with low fear thresholds and hardened their resolve to live.
Dr. Ben Carson strengthens Giles’ case in the book’s foreword. Carson, like Giles, grew up in challenging home circumstances. But Carson was for some reason unstoppable. Carson credits his mother for disciplining him and making him read book after book for years. He rose from poverty and last in his classes in Detroit and Boston to become America’s foremost neurosurgeon and President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Carson is a true American success story, a man hammered by hardship into something more.
Giles himself grew up in tough circumstances, aware that he was dirt-poor and with a father who was unreliable and hardly around. His father also spent some time in jail, which according to statistics makes a child hundreds of times more likely to become delinquent and even criminal themselves and suffer psychological disorders. Giles recounts many “desirable difficulties,” mostly the result of his ill-tempered, hard-drinking absentee father, that forced him to grow up, and forged him into a man who knew that only he could make his own life better and keep it on track.
Giles’ rise to become one of the most successful trial lawyers in southern California and a leading national entrepreneur is inspiring. It also rings true to anyone who has ever faced serious adversity and come out of it stronger, wiser and more focused and relentless than before.
One question that comes to mind from any motivational book is, “Can I learn the traits this book says it takes to succeed, or are they innate? Does reading about how someone else overcame something really do me any good?” Giles argues the relentlessness that success demands, a low fear threshold, the drive to thrive, can be learned. He says they must be learned by anyone who wants to become one of the 15 percent who can rise above any circumstance and overcome any obstacle. His book explains and teaches how to become relentless.
The deck may be stacked against you. Circumstances may not be to your liking, or right or fair at all. That’s life. It’s unfair. In The Fifteen Percent: Overcoming Hardships and Achieving Lasting Success Terry Giles makes a strong case that anyone can be strong, and hardship may be just the thing you need to get you going and move forward.
Bryan Preston is the author of Hubble’s Revelations: The Amazing Time Machine and Its Most Important Discoveries. He’s a writer, producer, veteran, author, Texan, and conservative strategist.