Being Licked Is Valuable If We Learn From It

Photo by Bram Naus on Unsplash

Behind this prosperous and respected company is the story of a man fighting, battling his way upward: losing ten years’ savings in his first six months in business, living in his office several months because he lacked the money to pay rent on an apartment, turning down numerous “good” jobs because he wanted more to stay with his idea and make it work, hearing prospects for his service say no a hundred times as often as they said yes…

During the seven unbelievable hard years, it took him to succeed, I never heard my friend complain once. He’d explain, “Dave, I’m learning. This is a competitive business, and because it’s intangible, it’s hard to sell. But I’m learning how.”

And he did.

Once I told my friend that his experience must be taking a lot out of him. But he replied, “No, it’s not taking something out of me; it’s putting something into me instead.”

Check the lives of the people in Who’s Who in America, and you’ll find that those who have succeeded in a major way have been pounded by losing situations. Each person in this elite corps of successful men has encountered opposition, discouragement, setbacks, personal misfortune.

Read the biographies and autobiographies of great people, and again you discover that each of these people could have surrendered to setbacks many times.

Or do this. Learn the background of the president of your company or the mayor of your city or select any person you consider a real success. When you probe, you’ll discover the individual has overcome big, real obstacles.

It is not possible to win high-level success without meeting opposition, hardship, and setback. But it is possible to use setbacks to propel you forward. Let’s see how.

I saw some commercial airline statistics recently showing that there is only one fatality per 10 billion miles flown. Air travel is a magnificently safe way to go these days. Unfortunately, air accidents still occur. But when they do, the Civil Aviation Administration is on the scene quickly to find out what caused the crash. Fragments of metal are picked up from miles around a pieced together. A variety of experts reconstruct what probably happened. Witnesses and survivors are interviewed. The investigation goes on for weeks, months until the question “What caused this crash?” is answered.

Once the CAA has the answer, immediate steps are taken to prevent a similar accident from happening again. if the crash was caused by a structural defect, other planes of that type must have that defect corrected. Or if certain instruments are found faulty, corrections must be made. Literally, hundreds of safety devices on modern aircraft have resulted from CAA investigations.

The CAA studies setbacks to pave the way to safer air travel. And it's obvious that their efforts pay off.

Doctors use setbacks to pave the way to better health and longer life. Often when a patient dies for an uncertain reason, doctors perform a postmortem to find out why. In this way, they learn more about the functioning of the human body, and the lives of other people are saved.

A sales executive friend of mine devotes one entire sale meeting a month to helping his salesmen discover why they lost important sales. The lost sale is reconstructed and carefully examined. In this way, the salesman learns how to avoid losing similar sales in the future.

The football coach who wins more games than he loses goes over the details of each game with his team to point out their mistakes. Some coaches have movies made of each game so the team can literally see its bad moves. The purpose: to play the next game better.

CAA officials, successful sales executives, physicians, football coaches, and professionals in every field follow his success principle: salvage something from every setback.

When a setback hists us personally, our first impulse is often to become so emotionally upset that we fail to learn the lesson.

Professors know that a student’s reaction to a failing grade provides a clue to his success potential. When I was a professor at Wayne State University in Detroit some years ago, I had no choice but to turn in a failing grade for a graduating senior.

This was a real blow to the student. He had already made graduation plans and canceling was embarrassing. He was left with two alternatives: retake and pass the course and receive his degree at later graduation or quit school without earning a degree.

I expected that the student would be disappointed, perhaps even somewhat belligerent, when he learned of his setback. I was right. After I explained that his work was far below passing standards, the student admitted that he hadn’t put forth a serious effort in the course.

“But,” he continued, “my past record is at least average. Can’t you consider that?”

I pointed out that I could not because we measure performance one course at a time. I added that rigid academic codes prohibited changing grades for any reason other than an honest mistake on the part of the professor.

Then the student, realizing that all avenues toward a grade change were closed, became quite angry. “Professor,” he said, “I could name fifty people in this city who’ve succeeded in a big way without taking this course or even knowing about it. What’s so blasted important about this course? Why should a few bad marks in one course keep me from getting my degree?

“Thank god,” he added, “they don’t look at things on the ‘outside’ like you professors do.”

After that remark, I paused for about forty-five seconds. (I’ve learned that when you’ve been sniped at, one fine way to prevent a war of words is to take a long pause before answering.)

Then I said to my student friend, “Much of what you say is true. There are many, many highly successful people who know absolutely nothing about the subject matter in this course. And it is possible for you to win success without this knowledge. In the total scheme of life, this course content won’t make or break you. But your attitude towards this course may.”

“What do you mean by that?” he asked.

“Just this,” I answered. “Outside they grade you just as we grade you. What counts there just as what counts here is doing the job. Outside they won’t promote you or pay you more for doing second-class work.”

I paused again to make certain the point got through.

Then I said, “May I make a suggestion? You’ are highly disappointed now. I can appreciate how you feel. And I don’t think any less of you if you’re a little sore at me. But look at this experience positively. There’s a tremendously important lesson here: if you don’t produce, you don’t get where you want to go. Learn this lesson, and five years from now you’ll regard it as one of the most profitable lessons you learned in all the time invested here.”

I was glad when I learned a few days later that this student had reenrolled for the course. This time he passed with flying colors. Afterward, he made a special call to see me to let me know how much he had appreciated our earlier discussion.

“I learned something from flunking your course the first time,” he said. “It may sound odd, but you know, Professor, now I’m glad I did not pass the first time.”

We can turn setbacks into victories. Find the lesson, apply it, and then look back on defeat and smile.

Moviegoers will never forget the great Lionel Barrymore. In 1936 Mr. Barrymore broke his hip. The fracture never healed. Most people thought Mr. Barrymore was finished. But not Mr. Barrymore. He used the setback to pave the way to even greater acting success. For the next eighteen years, despite the pain that never abated, he played dozens of successful roles in a wheelchair.

On March 15, 1945, W. Colvin Williams was walking behind a tank in France. The tank hit a mine, exploded, and permanently blinded Mr. Williams.

But this didn’t stop Mr. Williams from pursuing his goal to be a minister and counselor. When he was graduated from college (and with honors too), Mr. Williams said he thought his blindness “will actually be an asset in my career. I can never judge by appearances. Therefore, I can always give a person a second chance. My blindness keeps me from cutting myself off from a person because the way he looks. I want to be the kind of person to whom anyone can come and feel secure, to express himself.”

Isn’t that a magnificent living example of cruel, bitter defeat being turned into victory?

Defeat is only a state of mind, and nothing more.

One of my friends, who is a substantial and successful investor in the stock market, carefully appraises each investment decision in the light of his past experiences. One time he told me, “When I first started investing fifteen years ago, I really got sung a few times. Like most amateurs, I wanted to get rich quickly. Instead, I got broke quickly. But that didn’t stop me. I knew the basic strengths of the economy and that, over the long pull, well-selected stocks are about the best investment anybody can make.

“So, I just regarded those first bad investments as part of the cost of my education,” he laughed.

On the other hand, I know a number of people who, having made an unwise investment or two, are strict “antisecurities.”

Rather than analyze their mistakes and join in a good thing, they reach the completely false conclusion that investing in common stocks is just a form of gambling and sooner or later everybody loses.

Decide right now to salvage something from every setback. Next time things seem to go wrong on the job or at home, calm down and find out what caused the trouble. This is the way to avoid making the same error twice.

Being licked is valuable if we learn from it.

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Entrepreneur, Investor & Life-Enthusiast. COO @ TopicInsights Media Publisher. Here to write and inspire the world of business. marcos@topicinsights.com

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Marcos Brakenridge

Marcos Brakenridge

Entrepreneur, Investor & Life-Enthusiast. COO @ TopicInsights Media Publisher. Here to write and inspire the world of business. marcos@topicinsights.com

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