Turning Defeat into Triumph
Today’s episode is about not giving up; it is about discovering that our best often is realized through a spirit of determination, endurance, and faith in ourselves, our skills, and our strength. We go through the stories of famous personalities who achieved great success, changing the course of world history, literature, sports, and politics. We also discuss the importance of removing negative thinking from our vocabulary and the four essential habits to achieve our triumphs.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger, and it is a privilege to be with you. I have so much been looking forward to this. I admire you. We admire you. The very fact you’re listening to this podcast says so much about you. So, welcome and let’s have a great time today. Recently, I had the opportunity to watch, once again, a movie called Darkest Hour. And the fate of Western Europe hung on Winston Churchill. It seemed like in the very early days of World War Two, the newly-appointed British Prime Minister must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight on, against incredible odds. And during the next four weeks in 1940, Churchill cements his legacy as his courageous decisions and leadership helped change the course of World War Two. That’s quite a story. And as people seek to influence Churchill to negotiate with Hitler and give up their freedom, with time as he struggles with this issue and it’s the darkest hour and British troops are stuck at Dunkirk and facing annihilation, it seemed like the pressures of the world were on Churchill’s shoulders. And as he thought about this, he thought about what England under the occupation of a person like Hitler might be.
He went and rode on the transportation system and had the opportunity to talk with people and get their opinion, and he said, “If you could have a negotiated peace with Hitler, what would you think?” And all sudden, people started saying, “Never! Never! No! We’ll fight him in the field. We’ll fight him on our beaches.” He was inspired because it helped crystallize his thinking and he went back and made this famous speech in Parliament and turned the day. Well, every single one of us, I think, at one time or another, come to this crucible, if you will, this moment where we feel the whole burden of the world.
So, that is what I want to talk about is how do you turn the darkest hour into a moment of triumph in your life, a triumph that goes forward, builds, and inspires your life for the rest of your life. And as he worked on this situation of World War Two and the war escalated, the British were demoralized by feelings of helplessness. So, night after night, German bombers dropped death and destruction on London’s Manchester and Reading. And night after a night people lost their homes or their workplaces or their lives. Children were sent to the country for safety, teenagers were trained to fly fighter planes, and the headlights of cars were kept off, and black paper covered the windows of every home and business. And along with suppressing the lights of everyday life, the smoke and dust dimmed even the light of the sun. “Demoralized” doesn’t seem adequate to describe what the British people felt. And in the midst of such despair, this man, Winston Churchill, with a will to live and a vision for better days, turned British hearts and minds towards hope with only 39 words. Here are the words that he spoke essentially in the parliament, as I just described that situation: “Never give in. Never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in, except to the convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to the force of evil. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
The spirit of that message inspired British inner allies to fight back with great courage and not only for their survival as a nation but for a worldwide victory over tyranny. It was how to experience this triumph from the depths of despair. The British learned the hard lesson that the ultimate enemy can be within ourselves, where we each battle this urge to give up. So, Churchill’s rally to a belief in victory is a rally we can each give ourselves. And the truth, well, as Douchan Gersi put it: “Victory always starts in the head.” It’s a state of mind. It then spreads with such radiance and such affirmations that destiny can do nothing but obey. And so, find this moment of triumph, the glory of the triumph. And it’s during moments of discouragement or despair when you aren’t sure if you can easily make it, that success can be found as you reach deep down within and fight back with courage, faith, and the spirit of keeping on.
Some good examples of this are, in 1990, while Joanne Rowling was on a four-hour delayed train trip from Manchester to London, the idea for a story of a young boy attending a school of Wizardry came fully formed into her mind. And as soon as she reached her Clapham Junction flat, she began to write immediately. And after moving to Portugal to teach English as a foreign language, Rowling married. And the couple welcomed a daughter the next year but separated only a few months after her birth. In the next month, Rowling and her daughter moved to be near Rowling’s sister in Edinburg, Scotland. And during this period, Rowling was diagnosed with clinical depression and contemplated suicide. Seven years after graduating from university, Rowling saw herself as “the biggest failure I knew” – her marriage had failed, she was jobless with a dependent child. But she described her failure as liberating in her 2008 Harvard University commencement address. She said, “Failure means a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy to finishing the only work that mattered to me at that time. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one area I truly belong.”
So, in order to teach in Scotland, she needed a postgraduate certificate of education, something that required a full-time year-long course of study. So, she began the course in August 1995. And after completing her first novel and having survived on state welfare support, she wrote in many cafes – especially Nicholson’s cafe – whatever she could to get Jessica, her daughter, to fall asleep. And in 1995, Rowling finished Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It was on an old manuscript typewriter. Her agent submitted the book to 12 publishing houses, all of which rejected the manuscript. A year later, she finally gave the green light and a £1,500 advance in money came by editor Barry Cunningham from Bloomsbury, a small publishing house in London. Although Bloomsbury agreed to publish the book, Cunningham advised Rowling to get a day job. He believed she had little chance of making money in children’s books. In 1997, however, Rowling received an $8,000 grant from the Scottish Art Council to enable her to continue writing. In the following spring, an auction held in the United States for the rights to publish the novel was won by Scholastic Magazine or Scholastic Enterprises Publishing for $105,000. Rowling said she nearly died when she heard the news. In June 1997, Bloomsbury published Philosopher’s Stone with an initial print run of 1,000 copies, 500 of which were distributed to libraries. The book subsequently won the Nestlé Children’s Book Prize, the prestigious British Book Awards for Children’s Book of the Year, and the Children’s Book Award.
The rest, as they say, is history. Harry Potter is now a global brand worth an estimated £7 billion, which is like $15 billion, and probably a lot more in today’s world. And the last four Harry Potter books have consecutively set records as the fastest-selling book in history. The series, totaling 4,195 pages have been translated, in whole or in part, into 65 languages. The Harry Potter books have also gained recognition for sparking an interest in reading among the young at a time when children were thought to be abandoning books for computers and televisions. So, J.K. Rowling came to a point in her life where she felt like a failure – Darkest Hour type – and instead of giving up, she stripped away everything and started building from there. She found her crucible of life in that moment. And leveraging her unique talent, she worked on the story of Harry Potter, and the result was a changed woman and a changed world.
JK Rowling isn’t alone. She made her triumphs, didn’t she? Others have also suffered setbacks which are just as dramatic and discouraging. Just one example: Roger Bannister, the first person to break the 4-minute mile was horribly burned in a fire and was painfully disfigured. He came back through much adversity to become the fastest district runner alive at his time. He turned that dark hour, that challenge, that crucible in his life into a triumph. Now, listen, my friends, it’s normal to get knocked down in life. It’s okay. It’s how we learn. But what is not okay when you get knocked down is to not get back up. And the fact is that history is not made by people who get knocked down. History is made by people that get back up over and over again, and figure out how to turn those knockdowns into a triumph. And so we see these examples of endurance and persistence and never giving up, and we remember the triumphs, the victories.
So, how can you overcome the obstacles in your way and achieve your goals, dreams, aspirations, and visions? Well, the only way to do it is by working on the triumph. You get knocked down, determination of getting back up, never giving up, and going to work on the triumph. Listen, regular people experience bad in many ways, and your bad can stop you in your tracks. We had a memorable bad as we think about good, better, best. Well, there can be bads. So, we’ve had some as well. In our family, at about 6 pm one evening, our son, David, was in a serious accident that resulted in a critically broken neck. He was immediately put in a halo to keep his neck secure. And you know what a halo is – it’s where they bolt that big apparatus to your skull and secure it around your neck. And it’s not removable. You have to wear it for about six months or whatever time it’s needed. So, he was put in this halo to keep his neck secure. And at the time, he was scheduled to start law school in about six weeks. So, how could he pick up the pieces? Well, the brace prevented him from turning his head. He couldn’t drive and it was a difficult time to do any work at all. He was in pain and wasn’t even sure he’d ever regain normal function. But he resolved to start law school on time. His I’ll-show-you attitude did just that. He refused to give in or give up. And thanks to the help and support of his family, professors, and classmates, he recovered fully. And not only started law school on time but graduated with his class on time. This was a great triumph in his life.
Your bad may include such difficulties as “How will I pay my mortgage without a job? How can I ever trust again when he or she betrayed me? How do I feel love and forgiveness ever again after her divorce or his divorce is final? And when will peace come into my heart over the loss of two sons to a drunken driver? How do I recover from heartbreak?” Well, a bad in a company, an organization turns up in momentum and effectiveness at work. And so we see this all the time. And as we look at these kinds of difficulties, never giving up, going after this triumph is an attitude, it’s a process, it’s a mantra – all rolled into one to unlock your potential in the face of difficulty, crisis, or disaster, is wrapped up in the will to go on. To have this triumph, this wonderful, glorious triumph, that’s all the sweeter because you were knocked down and you had to get back up. And this is where satisfaction and happiness come. These are the times that you discover what is within you. And you have a choice when it seems that difficulties have locked all the doors; that choice is to stay in the game, to keep falling off strikes until your pitch comes, and then hit it out of the park.
And really, as you think about it, to achieve your very best in the spirit of “Good, better, best, and never let it rest,” you must defeat the enemy within. And one of the biggest enemies to personal happiness and joy in the journey can be feelings of discouragement, loneliness, disappointment, defeat, or being overwhelmed. Beset by these kinds of feelings, you fail to win because you give up before you give yourself a chance, or you’re afraid that the cost in terms of effort or other resources is too high or you believe that critics within your own voice and without others around you who say “You can’t succeed.” But continuing to think you can win, you can have a triumph once success seems out of reach is not a gift, but a decision you need to make. Nothing splendid has ever been achieved, according to Bruce Barton, except by those who dare to believe that something inside of them was superior to the circumstance. We have many wonderful examples of these. And sometimes it’s not the crisis that takes you down; what takes you down is giving up. And those who don’t give up, prosper in the worst of times. They look around and they find something to believe in, and they figure out how to create their triumph. They change careers and offer a new service, start a business. They commit to do something and go the distance. And you can do the same.
Consider the inspirational life of Abraham Lincoln. Remember, he wasn’t always president. He wasn’t always President Lincoln. And as a politician, Lincoln was defeated in his first trial for the legislature. He was defeated in his first attempt to be nominated for Congress. Defeated in his application to be commissioner of the General Land Office. He was defeated in the senatorial election of 1854. And he was defeated in his efforts for the vice presidency in 1856. And defeated in the senatorial election of 1858. He said, “I am now the most miserable man living.” Oh my goodness. Now that sounds like a dark hour, doesn’t it? Wrote Lincoln to a friend, “If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would not be one cheerful face on the earth.” The depth of Lincoln’s failures led him to despair of ever feeling happiness and success. But you know the history and what changed, and the fact that others have succeeded in the face of high odds against them doesn’t always help you feel better. But examining their stories can help you figure out what to do next. Lincoln’s example is obvious.
Now look at some people you may not have realized were failures before or while they were succeeding – one is Thomas Edison. He was fired from his first two jobs for being nonproductive. And as an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts before he finally invented a lightbulb that worked. And Michael Jordan, the Hall of Fame national basketball player, one of the greatest professional basketball players ever, said this: “I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career, I have lost almost 300 games. And on 26 occasions, I’ve been entrusted to take the game-winning shot and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in life. But that is exactly why I have succeeded.” Don’t you love that? In other words, he understood that we get knocked down, we have tough times, but it’s getting back up and working for the triumphs that really makes the difference. Well, you know what? There are some things that you can do. Nothing is ever accomplished without determination and dedication, to see an idea and goal or ambition to its completion. And just as a car will take you nowhere without an engine, all the good intentions in the world will prove useless without action. It’s important to recognize the things that might deter you from your goals and then employ strategies to keep moving forward. The quality of seeing something through overcoming, overwhelming odds and bouncing back from serious setbacks can be learned.
And so, working for your triumphs, having the moment of triumph, never giving up combines the three previous principles we just talked about here recently in the podcast: being true to character, innovating through imagination, and applying the power of knowledge. And so as you work on these things, they’re very powerful. And four essential habits of achieving your triumphs of never giving up can be learned and applied to help you through when things are tough. Here are the four things you can do: hold on to an inspiring purpose and experience the achievement of the triumph; be determined you will never give up. Number two is, practice the power of positive thinking, and maintain only positive language, and eliminate negative language from your vocabulary; number three is, control what you can control – we recently just did a podcast a few weeks ago on that subject alone. How powerful! And last of all, repeat the mantra, “I will persist. I will succeed. I will never give up. And I will achieve my triumphs.” These are all powerful and I love the impact that they can be in our life.
I would like to just finish today in thinking about this number two, the power of positive thinking, of having a positive mindset. I love the writings of William James. He wrote, “The greatest discovery of our generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind. As you think, so shall you be.” Don’t allow yourself to think any negative thoughts. Fill your mind with positive literature, prose, music, and media. Things like the movie Amazing Grace, or Apollo 13, Rudy, or Remember the Titans, The Greatest Showmen – I love that – The Sound of Music, The Legend of Bagger Vance, and Rocky – there are so many more. Stay focused on your vision and goals. Have faith and believe in a positive outcome. Remember that time spent thinking negatively is time not applied to creative thinking and solutions.
I love this: one night, Edison’s lab was destroyed by fire – I don’t love the fact that happened, but his example, I do. The next morning, he looked at the ruins and said, “There’s great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank you, God, we can start anew.” Don’t you love that? And the former president of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt, shared the following inspirational quote: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man or person or woman stumbles or fail, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who knows the great enthusiasms; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; and not only knows the great enthusiasms but knows the great devotions, and spends himself or herself in a worthy cause; and at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if there is failure, at least fails while daring greatly, so that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Well, this is a great thing to consider we’ve talked about today, as easiest as illustrated previously. I’ve always been grateful for inspiring examples. And one of the ones that’s inspired me as much as any, is the life of Helen Keller, as she and her family lived the principle of never giving up, of achieving your triumphs. And as I mentioned earlier, Anne Sullivan arrived to find a child who did nothing more than scream, weep, kick, and bite, but she refused to give up. And despite Helen’s profound handicaps, she proved to be an eager and brilliant pupil. And with Anne’s constant companionship and help, Helen later went to school, learned how to use a special typewriter, and learned to read Braille, not only in English, but also in Latin, Greek, French, and German. She also learned to understand spoken words by placing her fingers on the speaker’s lips and throat – something she started doing at the age of 10 with Anne. And after much practice, she could imitate the sounds by feeling the movements and vibrations of her own lip and throat. This girl who could once only utter animal-like sounds, gained admission to the prestigious Radcliffe College and graduated with honors four years later. She spent the rest of her life working on behalf of those with handicaps. Imagine if Helen’s parents or Anne Sullivan have given up on Helen, how different Helen’s life would have been, and how different our world would have been. What would have happened if Bannister or Ernest Shackleton of Endurance, or Helen Keller or Lincoln or J.K. Rowling or thousands of others had given up, how different would our world be today?
It’s the same for you as you journey along life’s pathways. Remember that you have unique skills and abilities, and that your best often is realized through a spirit of determination, endurance, and faith in yourself, and faith that things will ultimately work out. May you never give up. May you seek those inspirational triumphs and achieve those. May you turn your darkest hour into your most glorious moment and have the satisfaction of ever that you did your very best. I’m Steve Shallenberger with Becoming Your Best Global Leadership, wishing you a great day.
Founder, Becoming Your Best
CEO, executive, corporate trainer, and community leader.