How To Turn Defeat Into Victory
Social workers and others who work on skid row find many differences in age, religious faith, education, and background among the tragic souls who have dropped into America’s gutters. Some of those citizens are surprisingly young. Others are old. A sprinkling is college graduates; a few have essentially no formal education. Some are married; others are not. But the people on skid row do have something in common: each one is defeated, whipped, beaten. Each one has encountered situations that conquered him. Each is eager, even anxious, to tell you about the situation that wrecked him, about his own private Waterloo.
These situations cover the waterfront of human experience from “My wife ran out of me” to “I lost everything I had and had no place else to go” to “I did a couple of things that made me a social outcast, so I came down here.”
When we move up from skid row into the dominion of Mr. and Mrs. Average American, we see obvious differences in living habits. But again, we discover that Mr. Mediocre gives essentially the same reasons to explain his mediocrity as Mr. Skid Row gave to explain his complete collapse. Inside, Mr. Mediocre feels defeated.
He has unhealed wounds suffered in situations that beat him. Now he is super cautious. He plods along, ducking the thrill of living victoriously, discontented with himself. He feels beaten but tries hard to endure the sentence of mediocrity that “fate” has handed him.
He, too, has surrendered to defeat, but in a reasonably clean, socially “accepted” way.
Now, when we climb upstairs into the uncrowded world of success, we again discover people from every possible background. Corporate executives, leading ministers, government officials, top men in every field, we discover, come from poor homes, rich homes, broken homes, cotton patches, cornfields, and slums. These people, who lead every branch of our society, have experienced every tough situation you can describe.
It is possible to match every Mr. Skid Row with a Mr. Mediocre and a Mr. Success on every score — age, intelligence, background, nationality, you name it — with one exception. The one thing you can’t match them on is their response to defeat.
When the fellow we call Mr. Skid Row got knocked down, he failed to get up again. he just lay there, splattered out. Mr. Mediocre got op to his kneed, but he crawled away, and when out of sight, ran in the opposite direction so he’d be sure never to take a beating again.
But Mr. Success reacted differently when he got knocked down. He bounced up, learned a lesson, forgot the beating, and moved upward.
One of my closest friends is an exceptionally successful management consultant. When you walk into his office, you feel that you are really “uptown.” The fine furniture, the carpeting, the busy people, the important clients, all tell you his company is prosperous.
A cynic might say, “It must have taken a real con man to put across an operation like this.” But the cynic would be wrong. It didn’t take a con man. And it didn’t take a brilliant man or a wealthy man or a lucky man.
All (and I hesitate to use the word all because all means so much sometimes) all it took was a persistent man who never thought he was defeated.