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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One day when my kids were younger, they had a play date with some friends. I heard one of them telling the other that Santa Claus wasn’t real. My son, who was eight years old at the time, vehemently defended the jolly old man, with elaborate explanations of why something not easily proven was worth believing in anyway.
It reminded me of my own childhood.
I had to laugh, as I flashed back to one of my own experiences with a little girl in my neighborhood who made fun of me for believing that a fat man in a red coat actually came down my chimney every year. I was so mad that, when she wasn’t looking, I broke all her crayons and put them back in the box (and spent the rest of the holiday season worrying that I had just put myself on the naughty list).
I have since learned that it is okay if everyone doesn’t believe what I do.
And if he hasn’t already, my son will learn that too. But he is the one who taught me something that day. I was buoyed by his unwavering belief and faith in something he’s never really seen and inspired by his example.
I can’t help but believe that those who trust in something magical will experience that magic in ways the skeptics will not. And I think the same is true in life.
There will always be someone around to tell us what cannot be done.
And there will also always be people who, upon being so told, will do it anyway. Their faith, determination, and belief in something they have yet to see will allow them to persevere until their dreams become reality.
One of my favorite authors on personal and spiritual growth, Alan Cohen, once said “You do not need to get others to believe in your truth. You just need to live it.”
Trust, faith, and perseverance go a long way.
In a world where much is uncertain and the old success formulas no longer seem to work, I believe it is more important than ever to trust in what we know to be true in hearts, even if our minds cannot figure it all out. It may go against what we have been conditioned to believe, see, and do – but perhaps this makes it even more important.
To bust out of old paradigms that keep us from realizing our greatness, perhaps we need to stop questioning what is possible and start challenging our limits instead. As we do, we will begin to make manifest that which we previously only dreamed was possible and, through our example, show others the way to rise.
Wishing you the happiest of holidays and a bright blessed New Year!