“But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” — Ernest Hemingway
If you let your defeats conquer you, they will penetrate your psyche and erode your character. Setbacks are unavoidable in this journey called life and none of us are immune to them. If you are reading this now, you no doubt live in the Western world and have access to technology which makes you more privileged than millions of others living in poverty. I mention this because life in the Western world comes with its privileges and its downsides.
Defeat is sewn into the fabric of our existence and it accompanies us our entire life whether it be our: health, relationships, career or financial. Every one of us has a story where defeat gained a foothold into our minds. Some people recoil from the pain while others rise to the challenge and overcome their barriers to defeat. Can you identify with this narrative? Have there been moments in your life when you experienced setbacks and thought you wouldn’t bounce back, yet you did? We are all tested in some form or another, some more than others and whilst it may not be fair, this doesn’t mean life is unjust. Those who overcome defeat learn quickly that to judge life based on fairness does not award them any more power than the next person.
Unfortunate things happen to good people and one need only turn on the news to see the situation in Greece with the fires and the earthquake in Indonesia where the death toll continues to rise into the hundreds. Challenges are everywhere, but we mustn’t give up hope of a better future. We mustn’t believe we are powerless in the face of our defeats. Sometimes it may feel life imposes itself upon us in a cruel and unjust way. We may want to retreat until we feel ready to emerge again. This isn’t necessarily a bad plan though we mustn’t stay down or else our self-esteem and character will be compromised if we don’t confront our challenges.
“You don’t have to fear defeat if you believe it may reveal powers that you didn’t know you possessed.” — Napoleon Hill
When speaking in front of audiences or coaching clients, I often ask people to think back to a time in their life that shaped their character. Similarly, I invite you to reflect on moments when you experienced hardship or defeat yet overcame it? What lessons did you learn and what skills or qualities did you develop? People often say they didn’t think they had the inner strength and the resiliency to overcome their setbacks and this reaffirms why we must face our challenges with an open mind and a soft heart. We can’t allow life to extinguish our inner light because once it goes out it will be difficult to rekindle the promise of hope, faith and enthusiasm.
I can’t explain why unpleasant things happen to us, nor would I want the burden of trying to figure it out. I’ve come to the realisation it is a waste of time and energy trying to understand why unfortunate things happen. If I look for the meaning in life’s events, I become mired in the problem and move further away from a solution. However, if I accept it and rise again to shake the fragments of defeat off my shoulder, I realise life isn’t a tale about being knocked down, but it’s about how many times we rise that makes the difference. Similarly, it’s of little use to justify life being fair or unfair since this is not beneficial and relieves us of our power to respond affirmatively. If we can summon our inner power and make the best of our hardships, we can sail into smoother waters knowing there will be times when the sea of life will be rough, yet when the storm passes it will be smooth sailing once again. It is what the acclaimed Brazilian author of The Alchemist Paulo Coelho refers to in a recent tweet when he said: “The more violent the storm, the quicker it passes.”
I’d like for you to walk away after reading this article and get a sense that setbacks are part of the human condition, though we mustn’t be defeated by them. If we do, we risk losing ourselves to what the late holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl reiterated through his writing and teachings; our ability to choose our attitude. Frankl’s passage from Man’s Search for Meaning underscores that our attitude is the last remaining hope after everything is taken away from us, as was the case when he lost his family in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” You are not the product of your defeats because they are teaching points from which to cultivate your greatest strength, should you rise above them. For in overcoming our impediments, we discover the depth of our character and an abiding spirit of resiliency that follows us throughout life ever more.
Originally published at medium.com