THE LESSONS OF LOSING
You could view your failures as a gift because they often set you up for a breakthrough. So what benefits can be derived in defeat or setbacks? I can think of at least four valuable lessons failure gives us.
1. It is a great teacher.
2. It builds character.
3. It motivates you.
4. It helps you appreciate success.
It is a great teacher
Yes, defeat is a great teacher. Every winner has played the loser. Every champion has been the runner-up. Roger Federer is considered one of the best tennis players of all time, but he doesn't win every game, set, or match. He hits bad shots into the net. He slams serves out of bounds. He fails to place the tennis ball where he wants it dozens of times in every match. If Roger gave up after every failed shot, he'd be a failure. Instead, he learns from his misses and his losses and stays in the game. That's why he is a champion.
Does Federer always try to hit the perfect shot and to win every game, set, and match? Certainly, and so should you in whatever you do. Work hard. Practice. Master the fundamentals, and always try to do your best, knowing that sometimes you will fail because failure is on the path to mastery.
My younger brother teases me about my early years of developing as a speaker when I often failed to find an audience.
I'd beg schools and organizations for the chance to speak to them, but most turned me down as too young or too inexperienced or just too unusual. It was frustrating sometimes, but I knew I was still learning the ropes, figuring out what I needed to know to be a successful speaker.
When Aaron was in high school, he'd drive me all over the city searching for even a few people willing to listen to me. I'd speak for free just for the experience. Even then my price was often too high. I must have rung up every school in Brisbane offering my services at no charge. Most turned me down initially, but every no just made me push harder for the next yes.
"Don't you ever give up?" Aaron would say.
I didn't give up because every time I was turned down it hurt so much that I realized I'd found my passion. I really wanted to become a speaker. But even when I did manage to find an audience willing to listen to me, it didn't always go well. At one school in Brisbane, I started badly. Something distracted me, and I couldn't find my way back on track. I was sweating through my shirt. I kept repeating myself. I wanted to crawl off in a hole and never be seen again. I did so poorly I thought word would spread and I'd never be asked to speak in public for the rest of my life. When I finally finished and left the school, I felt like a laughingstock: my reputation was shot!
We can be our own harshest critics. I certainly was that day. But that flubbed performance made me focus even more on my dream. I worked at honing my presentation and delivery. Once you accept that perfection is just a goal, screwing up isn't so hard to handle. Each misstep is still a step, another lesson learned, another opportunity to get it right the next time.
I realized that if you fail and give up, you will never get up. But if you learn the lessons of failure and keep trying to do your best, the rewards will come—not just in the approval of others but in the fulfillment of knowing that you are making the most of every day allotted to you.
It builds character
Is it possible that messing up can build you up and make you more fit for success? Yes! What does not destroy you can make you stronger, more focused, more creative, and more determined to pursue your dreams. You may be in a rush to succeed, and there is nothing wrong with that, but patience is a virtue too, and failure certainly will develop that trait in you. Believe me, I've learned that my schedule isn't necessarily in God's day planner. He has his own time line and the rest of us have to wait for it to unfold.
This lesson really hit me when I joined my uncle Sam Radojevic in a startup business to manufacture and market his recumbent bicycle called the Hippo Cycle. We began in 2006, and our company still hasn't taken off, but with each setback and mistake, we learn a little more and move a little closer to our goal. We are building a business and our characters too, no doubt about that. I've learned that sometimes even though you may be doing your best, it's not enough to make a business work. Timing can be critical too. The economy suffered a recession just as we launched the business. We've had to be patient, hang in there, and wait for the times and the trends to come back our way.
There will be times when you will have to wait for the world to catch up to you. Thomas Edison, who went through more than ten thousand failed experiments before he developed a commercial lightbulb, said most of those who consider themselves failures are people who did not realize how close to success they were when they gave up. They were almost there, going through failure, but still bound for success. But they gave up before the tide could turn for them.
You never know what lies around the next corner. It could be the answer to your dreams. So you have to buck up, stay strong, and keep fighting. If you fail, so what? If you fall, so what? Edison also said: "Every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward."
If you do your best, God will do the rest, and whatever is meant to come your way will come. You have to be strong of character to win, and every loss can be a character-building experience if you are open to it.
In 2009 I spoke at the Oaks Christian School in Westlake, California. This small school is known for being a giant killer on the football field.Their football team has won six consecutive conference championships. When I spoke there, I met the founder of the school, David Price, and I realized where Oaks Christian athletic teams learned about strength of character.
David had been an attorney in a big Hollywood law firm with movie stars and movie studios as clients. He then went to work for an entrepreneur who owned hotels and resorts along with land all over California, including several golf courses. David was adept at managing businesses, and he saw that most golf courses were poorly run because they were usually operated by golf professionals who had never learned good business practices.
One day David went to his boss and said he wanted to buy a golf course from him.
"First of all, you work for me," the boss said, "so why should I sell you anything? Secondly, you know nothing about golf. And thirdly, you have no money!"
David failed to convince his boss at first, but he didn't give up. He persevered. He kept pestering him until the boss bought into David's dream and sold him the golf course he wanted. It was just the first of more than 350 golf courses that David eventually owned or leased.
Then when the golf course business suffered a downturn, David sold out. Now he buys, leases, and manages airports around the country. What did David learn from failure? Patience and perseverance, for sure. He never gave up on his dream. When the market dropped in the golf business, David also took stock and realized that his real skill wasn't managing golf courses, it was managing businesses. So he simply transferred that skill over to another arena.
David, who is now on the board of my Life Without Limbs nonprofit organization, told me the bigger the challenges we endure, the greater our strength of character. "Nick, if you'd been born with arms and legs, I don't think you would be as successful as you will become without them one day," David said. "How many kids would listen to you if they couldn't see right away that you have turned what should have been an incredible negative into something so positive?"
Remember those words when you experience challenges. For every blocked path, there is an open one. For every "disability," there is an ability. You were put on this earth to serve a purpose, so don't ever let a loss convince you that there are no ways to win. As long as you draw breath with the rest of us mortals, there is always a way.
I'm grateful that I've failed and persevered. My challenges made me more patient and more tenacious too. Those traits have come in handy in my work and in my play. One of my favorite ways to relax is to go fishing. My parents first took me when I was just six years old. They'd stick my pole in the ground or in a holder until I got a bite. Then I'd tuck my chin around the pole and hold on to the fish until someone could come and help me.
On one day I wasn't having much luck, but I hung in there, watching my line for three hours straight. The sun roasted me to a crispy crimson, but I was determined to catch a fish that day. My parents had wandered off, fishing down the shoreline, so I was alone when a fi sh finally hit my bait. I stomped my hand line with my toes and screamed "Mum! Dad!" until they came running.
When they pulled it in, that fish was twice my size. But I never would have landed him if I hadn't hung in there and refused to let go with my toe.
Of course, failure can also build humility into your character. I failed in my high school accounting class, which was a humbling experience. I was afraid that maybe I didn't have what it took to be a numbers cruncher, but my teacher encouraged me and tutored me. I studied and studied, and years later I earned a double degree in accounting and financial planning.
I needed that lesson in humility when I was a student. I needed to fail so I could learn that I didn't know all I needed to know. In the end, humility made me stronger. The writer Thomas Merton said, "A humble man is not afraid of failure. In fact, he is not afraid of anything, even of himself, since perfect humility implies perfect confidence in the power of God before Whom no other power has any meaning and for Whom there is no such thing as an obstacle."
It motivates you
We can choose to respond to loss or failure by despairing and giving up, or we can let the loss or failure serve as a learning experience and motivation to do better. A friend of mine is a fitness instructor, and I've heard him tell clients who are bench-pressing weights to "go to failure." Now that's encouraging, isn't it? But the theory is that you keep pumping the iron until your muscles are exhausted so that next time you can try to exceed that limit and build more strength.
One of the keys to success in any sport and in your work too is practice. I think of practice as failing toward success, and I can give you a perfect example that involves me and my cell phone. You may think the smart phone is a great invention, but for me it is a gift from heaven. Sometimes I think the inventors must have had me in mind when they created a single device that even a guy without arms or legs can use to talk on the telephone, send e-mails, text messages, play music, tape-record sermons and memos, and keep up with the weather and world events just by tapping it with my toes.
The smart phone isn't quite perfectly designed for me since the only part of me that can use the touch screen is a long way from the part of me that can talk! I can use the speaker feature most of the time, but when I'm in an airport or a restaurant, I don't want to share my conversations with everyone around me.
I had to figure out a way to position my cell phone closer to my mouth once I'd dialed it with my foot. The method I devised gives new meaning to the term "flip phone" and offers a bruising lesson in the role of failure in success. I spent a good week trying to use my little foot to flip my phone onto my shoulder, where I'd pin it down with my chin so I could talk on it. (Kids, don't try this at home!) During this trial-and-error period, you can believe I failed in many attempts. My face had so many bruises from getting hit by the phone that I looked like I'd been smacked with a bag full of nickels.
I only practiced when no one was around, because if someone had seen me, they might have thought I was into cellular self-abuse. I won't tell you how many times I whacked myself in the head or nose with my cell phone—or how many cell phones died in the mastery of the task. I could afford to take a few hits and to replace a few cell phones. What I couldn't afford to do was give up.
Every time that cell phone cracked me in the face, I became more and more motivated to master the feat, and eventually I did! Of course, as fate would have it, shortly after I finally mastered the skill, the tech world came out with Bluetooth headsets that rest in your ear. Now my famous cell-phone flip is a relic of technology past and it's just something I do to entertain friends when they're bored.
I encourage you to look at your own setbacks and pratfalls as sources of motivation and inspiration. There's no shame in falling short, striking out, tripping up, or screwing up. It's only a shame if you don't use the motivation from your misses and miscues to try harder and stay in the game.
It helps you appreciate success
The fourth gift of failure is that it serves as success appreciation class. Believe me, after a week of being whapped by my bad cell-phone flips, I felt enormous appreciation when I finally nailed the landing on my shoulder. In fact, the harder you have to work to achieve a goal, the more you will appreciate it. How many times have you looked back from a big victory and thought how sweet it was to finally triumph after your long struggle? Admit it, the tougher the climb, the better the view at the top.
One of my favorite childhood Bible stories was that of Joseph, the favored but proud son whose jealous brothers sold him into slavery. Joseph had a rough go for a long time. He was falsely accused of a crime, thrown into prison, and betrayed time and again by people he trusted. But Joseph didn't give up. He didn't let bitterness or failure defeat him. He persevered to become the ruler of Egypt who saved his people.
There are many lessons to draw from Joseph's struggles and his ultimate ascension to the throne. One I learned is that success may not come without pain. Joseph's trials helped me understand that while my life certainly seemed harder than most, others suffered more yet endured and achieved greatness. I saw that while God loves us, He makes no promises that life will be easy. And finally, I saw that once Joseph emerged from his many trials and betrayals, he savored his triumph by becoming a great and just king.
When you put your whole heart into achieving a goal and you go through great pain and suffering along the way, the feeling of achievement once you break through is so incredible that you just want to build on it, don't you? I don't think that is an accident. It may be one of the main reasons humankind has come so far. We celebrate tough victories not because we survived the effort but because our nature is to keep growing and seeking even higher levels of fulfillment.
In those times when God makes me work harder and harder for my goals, putting one stumbling block after another in my path, I truly believe that He is preparing me for bigger and better days. He throws challenges at us because He knows that when we go through failure, we grow.
Looking back at all I had to overcome at such a young age—the pain, the insecurity, the hurt, the loneliness—I don't feel sad. I feel humbled and grateful because I overcame those challenges that make my successes all the sweeter. In the end, they made me stronger, and, more important, they made me better equipped to reach out to others. Without my pain I would never be able to help anybody else deal with their pain. I wouldn't be able to relate so well with other people. As I approached my teen years, the knowledge of what I'd overcome made me more confident. That new level of self-confidence, in turn, attracted other kids to me. I formed a big circle of male and female friends. I loved the attention! I'd wheel around school basking in the warmth.
Of course, you know where that led—to politics. I summoned the courage to run for the school captain—which was the presidency of the entire student body of twelve hundred kids at MacGregor State School, which was like a combined junior high and high school and one of the largest schools in Queensland.
Not only was I the first physically disabled kid to run for school captain, I was running against one of the best athletes in the school's history—Matthew McKay, who is now a famous soccer player in Australia. My teacher, Mrs. Hurley, encouraged me to run after I was surprised to be nominated by my classmates. I ran on a platform of diversity and multiculturalism, and my campaign promise was to hold wheelchair races on school sports day.
I won in a landslide (sorry Matthew). My mum still has a clip from the Courier-Mail newspaper, which featured a big photograph and story with a headline hailing me as "Captain Courageous."
The same newspaper quoted me as saying: "All wheelchair kids, I reckon, should just give everything a go."
我青春时期的这句口号，可能不像耐克的“Just Do It”那么响亮，但对我来说也很有用。你会失败，因为你是人类;你会跌倒，因为道路崎岖。但你要知道，失败也是生命礼物的一部分，所以要把它们利用到极致。伙伴们，不要停下来，去尝试每一件事吧!
My boyhood slogan may not be as recognized as Nike's "Just Do It!" but it served me well. You will fail because you are human. You will fall because the path is rough. But know that your failures too are part of the gift of life, so put them to their highest use. Don't stop, mate. Give everything a go!
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