The Energizer

Resilient Insights for Work & Life

What sparks divergent paths in life?

by Eileen McDargh, Chief Energy Officer - Monday, December 09, 2019
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My colleague Susan Fowler has written a thought provoking article that I asked to share with my readers.  Susan tells the story of Tiffany Haddish a breakout star on television and in movies.  Tiffany had a terrible childhood while being shuttled from one foster home to another. Rather than living a life of misery Tiffany grew stronger and wiser.  I hope you enjoy the article as much as I did.


Tiffany Haddish is rich and famous. The actress and comedienne broke out in the popular movie Girls Trip , hosts ABC’s Kids Say the Darndest Things, and co-starred with Kevin Hart in Nobody’s Fool.

Tiffany’s story is fascinating. She gives insight into a mystery I need solved before I die (seriously): Why is it that two people who share life experiences internalize them so differently—one as despair and victimization; the other as fuel for meeting challenges and overcoming the odds? For example, why do two siblings growing up in the same abusive household take such divergent paths—one turns to drugs, abuse of others, or a life of crime, and the other turns to comedy, art, or charity work to help others cope with abusive circumstances?

Tons of research report on the characteristics of those who seek to better their circumstances. For example, they are likely to be proactive, demonstrate a high locus of control, or have a high locus of causality(three different measures). People who thrive under dire conditions think and frame the world differently than those who don’t. Much of my work draws on this research to help people shift their motivational outlook so they can thrive despite their environment.

But I keep coming back to this question: What sparks divergent paths in the first place?

Science hasn’t provided a definitive answer, but Tiffany Haddish’s story might provide one clue. After a tragic car accident rendered her mother incapable of taking care of 12-year old Tiffany and her younger siblings, the kids were separated and put into foster care. Tiffany would spend her teens being yanked without warning from one home to another—her belongings tossed into a trash bag for each move. Despite—or because of—her traumatic experiences, Tiffany made herself a promise. In a recent People magazine article Tiffany shared: “If I ever get power, I’m going to do something to make sure nobody else feels this way.” In 2017, Tiffany founded the She Ready Foundation to provide suitcases to foster kids on the move. She describes how, at 18 years old, she received an old Samsonite suitcase from her grandmother. “I felt like the most important person ever. Trash bags make kids feel like trash. Suitcases make them feel like travelers.”

Tiffany’s story points to one potential answer about why we take divergent paths—the serendipity of another person’s actions. Maybe someone sparks the connection required for us to make a choice and gain the competence that leads us to take the higher path—and thrive. Tiffany’s grandmother gave her more than a suitcase. She gave Tiffany the gift of choice, connection, and competence. I’ve focused my work on teaching leaders and individuals how to proactively shift from a lower to a higher path. Tiffany’s experience, though, points to how someone else can serendipity help us create the choice, connection, and competence required for us to experience the optimal motivation required for thriving? Optimal motivation results in resilience. Grit. Psychological safety. Well-being. Positive and sustainable energy.

Tiffany’s story inspires me. I hope it might inspire you, too. What if we could be the person who by virtue of the way we live our life, helps create the choice, connection, and competence someone needs for taking the first step on the higher path? I ask you, why not be that person who sparks the best in someone else?

Susan Fowler is the bestselling author of Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work… and What Does and the recently released, Master Your Motivation. She is co-author of Self Leadership and The One Minute Manager with Ken Blanchard. Fowler is a senior consulting partner for The Ken Blanchard Companies and lead developer of their Self Leadership and Optimal Motivation product lines.

One of the foremost thought leaders on motivation science, leadership, and self leadership, Susan is a globally sought-after speaker and consultant. People worldwide have learned from her award-winning training designs, academic articles, and blogs for Smartbrief,, and LeaderChat.

Susan has also coauthored Achieve Leadership Genius with Drea Zigarmi and Dick Lyles and Leading at a Higher Level with Ken Blanchard. Fowler is a professor in the Master of Science in Executive Leadership Program at the University of San Diego and a rotating board member for Angel Faces, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting girls and young women with disfiguring injuries.

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Eileen McDargh Keynote Speaker Blog Author

About Eileen!

Since beginning her consulting and training practice in 1980, Eileen has become noted for her ability to speak the truth with clarity, wisdom, humor and compassion. Long-standing clients and repeat engagements attest to her commitment to make a difference in minds, hearts and spirits of organizations and individuals. She draws upon practical business know-how, life's experiences and years of consulting to major national and international organizations that have ranged from global pharmaceuticals to the US Armed Forces, from health care associations to religious institutions. Executive Excellence magazine selected her as one of the top 100 thought leaders in leadership and among the top ten consultant providers of leadership development.

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