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The Art of Beating the Odds


Success is that experience that eludes so many of us so much of the time and it’s understanding is just as much a part of folklore as is leprechauns, even for the successful. I think it was Booker T. Washington who said that success was not measured by your position attained but by the obstacles overcome. My first impression would be that opportunity and talent are the key ingredients in being successful but if you look close enough at those who we might say have succeeded, you would find one important ingredient that is more common to each of their experiences and possibly makes Washington’s statement seem not so cliched as some might assume. In fact if you’re down on your luck and filled with a fervent desire to succeed you might be one step closer to success than if things were going okay for you. There seems to be this one basic principal in life that ensures you of getting yourself were you want to go and it’s based on persistence. Winston Churchill said it best during World War II, ” Never, never, never give up!”. He could say that because that’s how he got to be Prime Minister of England. He not only failed somewhat in school but was also defeated in every public office he ran for. Churchill was a poster child of sorts for such bravery but as history has shown, not the only voice but rather one voice in a sea of many.

Soichiro Honda got passed over for a job with Toyota. He left jobless and down on his luck when he soon there after decided to make his own engine which resulted in the Honda Car Company and billions of dollars in his own pocket. Walt Disney was fired from his job at a newspaper as editor and told, ” he lacked imagination and good ideas”. One business failure after another he eventually created the animated movie Snow White and The Walt Disney Company was born. Did you know that the first Dr.Seuss book was turned down by 27 publishers and that Mr. Ford had three failed auto companies before creating The Ford Motor Company. Sir Isaac Newton was a complete failure at maintaining the family farm so he entered school to become a physics scholar and Sidney Poitier was told to stop wasting everyone’s time and go wash dishes at his first acting audition. He went on to win an Academy Award. J. K Rowling was unemployed, divorced and raising a daughter on social security when she wrote her first Harry Potter book. She’s the first writer to make a billion dollars. Thomas Edison was told he was to stupid to learn anything and it took the creation of 1000 light bulbs before he got one right. Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting to a friend his entire lifetime out of the 800 paintings he created and Steven Spielberg was rejected three times from the University of Southern California before he eventually dropped out of school to become a director. The list goes on and on.

So what’s the real story of the human struggle to succeed that exists under this superficial layer of life we encounter everyday? It definitely is not what we sometimes assume it to be. Our struggles are much more connected than we could imagine and the complexities of our ideas concerning success separate us from the real depth and life of our toils and labors . Our perceptions are sometimes based on glitter and glam without any real connection to the human experience. Simplicity comes as a breath of fresh air for the weary. You can succeed but you have to keep trying and no it doesn’t usually come on the first, second or third attempt but yes it does come. Huge sacrifices are made along the way. The end result becomes the prize not the comfort level. That prize may be having a healthy happy family for one or developing a large successful business for another but the reward is always the same. Being successful is being successful.

I ran track during my four years in high school. My last two seasons I became all county and all conference in my division in the toughest event of all the 800 meters, two laps as fast as you could huff it. I had this weird style that stands out even in my mind today and has a resemblance to how I run my life. I always remained back in the group at a constant pace that was not to hard and I never let the leaders get more than a hundred meters in front of me. The last two hundred meters I gave it my all. I would pass the others in strides crossing the finish line sometimes several seconds ahead of them. Earlier in the box as we waited to set up on the starting line the other runners would be looking for me ( they discussed tricks etc. to beat me) but never recognized me until the end of the race.

I made sacrifices for all that teenage glory. I never ran a race in which I appeared strong and in the lead from the beginning. The last two hundred meters was pure living hell and I really didn’t get to bask in the lime light as I never talked about my ability to run and win with my fellow competitors. I practiced day and night running in rain, traffic, and all other sorts of circumstances. Sometimes we would run 15 milers and other times I had “hell day practices” which consisted of four 800 meter races with about 5 miles of other stuff thrown in afterwards. The greater the sacrifice the bigger the reward and I always finished every race sometimes collapsing at the finish line.

You either get it or you don’t. Some people never will catch on. They are the ones pointing out everyone’s mistakes, who believe there is only one way to do things and they follow the crowd in everything they do. They are boxed in by their environments, incapable of innovation and they always keep up with the Jones’s. When the ship is sinking they will be found fighting others to get into a life boat or collapsed on the floor sobbing and thinking about all they stand to lose. Meanwhile the true winners, the ones who are succeeding are the folks searching to help the others get to the life raft, giving up their spots for the less fortunate, or figuring out a plan to keep the boat floating. Winners simply never give up and they understand the desire to have success enough to know when to help others find it as well.

No matter how complex we want things to be ( three easy steps to lose weight or how to pick the right stocks all the time) the time honored simple rules of life keep coming back to haunt us. Determination, hard work , honesty, positive thinking, kindness, perseverance, respect, responsiblity, sacrifice etc. are all a part of these rules. We simply cannot get to were we want to be unless we acknowledge this. The misguided and often quick fix band-aids we incorporate in our thinking and regulating process, individually and as a country , get us no where but further from the answers we need.

What we desperately need is the ability to see the big picture as we move through life, the grand scheme of it all. It’s not completely the same for everyone but it contains the same elements, a core set of principals that we all encounter. That’s why people succeed everyday who we never thought could or things turn out the opposite of what we could have ever imagined. These principals or pillars of truth are like an under current running through the backdrop of existence and they defy our expectations over and over. So the idea of “don’t give up” has more power than anything we could create. We can’t replace honor, hard work and respect with anything else no matter how convincing it seems without sacrificing the chance to succeed.
That’s not to say everything is black and white but if our moral and ethical compass is not pointing in the right direction or we lose the frame work of the principals that have garnered success historically, our chances of creating a better successful future that works and lasts is impossible.


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