Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team. Steve Jobs was fired from the company he started. Edison failed over and over again in creating the lightbulb. Like it or not, failing is part of life. If it can happen to these legends, it can happen to anyone.
Zig Ziglar used to say, “Failure is an event, not a person.” That’s something we all need to remember, but it’s especially important to teach to children as they are growing up.
There is a Japanese proverb that says, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.” Good advice indeed.
Overcoming adversity is one of the critical skills of success. Whether you’re a CEO, an athlete, a doctor or a student, there will come a day when we fail. But the question becomes, what are we going to do about it?
I was reminded of this yesterday as it was the final day of my son’s swim season. He had already qualified for the Junior Olympics as part of the freestyle team but had two chances to qualify for the individual 50m freestyle.
In the morning, he had the 50m pool, then the 25m pool in the afternoon.
The time he needed in the 50m pool – 30.41.
His time 31.23.
One of his teammates managed to qualify with a time of 30.27 making it that much more painful.
Normally he comes up to see us soon after his races, but this was different. Unbeknownst to us, for 25 minutes he sat and cried. If it wasn’t for running into one kid from his swimming school we might not have known.
He had lost races before, but this loss affected him.
When he finally came to see us, he had bloodshot eyes and was utterly dejected. He seemed inconsolable.
We did what any good parent should – we told him we loved him. Whether he made the JO or not, we were still so proud of him. Heck, he already achieved more than we could have hoped for. At age 44, I have a grand total of two trophies and one medal to my name. My son at age 7, already had 14 in Karate alone and has gone on to double that with swimming.
In the afternoon, he needed 29.79. But none of his friends in the same age group had broken 30 seconds. It seemed next to impossible especially as his spirit seemed to have been crushed. His personal best was 30.73. Two of his teammates fared slightly better at 30.43 and 30.1.
All the swimmers started strong and almost all 10 swimmers reached the turn at the same time.
But after the turn my son had a slight lead. That lead extended as he reached the last 10 meters. I could see he’d be first, the question was, what time?
As he reached the wall, we looked to the scoreboard. My wife saw it first.
“Oh, my god,” she said.
His final time – 29.75! He had qualified by 0.04 seconds.
It’s hard to put into words how I felt. Astonishment might be the best word to describe it.
His fist pump said it best.
The night before, as my son was only competing in two races in an event that would last all day, he asked me to put some movies on his iPhone (my old one) for him. I asked him which ones he wanted. He told me his two favorites – The Shawshank Redemption and Remember the Titans.
Both movies are about overcoming adversity. The first, a man learning to survive on the inside, and the second, about a team learning to come together. If you haven’t seen them, I would get them this weekend.
Life is never easy. There will be times when we will face failure or something worse.
But as my son learned on Sunday, it’s not what happens that matters. It’s what we do with it that makes all the difference.
Mathesar, in the movie Galaxy Quest, may have said it best, “Never give up, never surrender.”
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