Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final and failure is not fatal – it is the courage to continue that counts.” Thomas Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” These words of wisdom lead me to ponder even the definitions of the words “success” and “failure“. Perhaps they are nothing more than labels we use for experiences that could very well be integral stepping stones for the people having them. Both words are laden with judgment, leading us to want to move toward one and away from the other. But what if they are simply two sides of the same coin?
“The spirit, the will to win, and the will to excel are the things that endure. These qualities are so much more important than the events that occur.”
~ Vince Lombardi
Consider the following events in each of these people’s lives:
- It has been said that Abraham Lincoln failed in business twice, had a nervous breakdown and was defeated in eight elections.
- Walt Disney was fired by the editor of a newspaper who felt he lacked creative ideas.
- As a boy, Thomas Edison was told by his teacher that he was too stupid to learn anything.
- Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda, was turned down for an engineering job by Toyota.
- Before becoming a successful actor, John Wayne was rejected from the United States Naval Academy.
- Lucille Ball was dismissed by drama school with a note that read, “Wasting her time… she’s too shy to put her best foot forward.”
- Steven Spielberg unsuccessfully applied to film school three separate times.
- Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
- Baseball legend Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times.
- The first novel of best-selling novelist John Grisham was rejected by sixteen agents and twelve publishing houses.
- Robert M. Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected by 121 publishers before it was published in 1974 and went on to sell millions of copies in 27 languages.
- The Beatles were turned down by the Deca recording company, who said, “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on its way out.”
This list could go on and on. What each of these people have in common is that they didn’t let labels like “success” or “failure” define who they are. They didn’t allow the events in their lives (or their thoughts and judgments about them) to get in the way of their dreams or their beliefs in what they were capable of – and what was possible. And their courage, perseverance and determination benefitted not just themselves, but countless others – many of whom came generations later.
I came across another great quote by a woman named Susan Taylor who said, “Seeds of faith are always within us; sometimes it takes a crisis to nourish and encourage their growth.” If this is true, perhaps what some call “failure” is actually a catalyst – or even a prerequisite – for what others call “success”.
What is going on in your life right now? What if it is exactly what you need to experience in order to get where you most want to go?
Implications for Real Leaders
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Have you experienced a disappointment or setback in your recent past that left you reeling? Have you found it difficult to get excited about things and maybe even felt like you needed to make a drastic change in order to bounce back? If so, this week’s video post is just for you. Below is a written version of what is in the video.
If you live in Phoenix, you may have noticed that a lot of shrubbery and trees froze over the winter. They look like they are dead — all dried up and prickly – ugly. I have a bougainvillea in my back yard that froze — not a pretty sight. It’s tempting to pull the whole thing out. Because it looks like it is dead. But I know that it is not, because this has happened in the past. And I know that once we trim all the dead stuff off, in the coming weeks, it will come back fuller and even more beautiful than it was last year.
That bougainvillea is a lot like us. I think a lot of us have experienced what we would call a freeze in our lives at some point – maybe a layoff, a reorganization, or just having the rug pulled out from under you, where you think that nothing is the way you want it to be and you wonder how you will ever recover. And I think some of us have been in a freeze for a really long time. We’ve lost the passion in what we do. We’ve lost the lightness in our step and maybe things have become a bit of a drudge.
You may think you have to change everything to bounce back, just like you might think you have to pull this tree out. But really, there is wisdom in realizing that sometimes we have the opportunity to trim the dead stuff away and to recognize that there is something underneath it just waiting to break through. And the freeze is neither good, nor bad. It just is. Whatever it is that may have happened to you or me in our past — it’s not good, it’s not bad — it just is. What we need to realize that there is something within needing to break though and we have an opportunity to trim away the stuff that isn’t working anymore and have faith that in the spring we will bloom fuller, brighter and bigger than we did before.
For more on bouncing back: