We live in an ultra-competitive society. And we live in a society which loves winners and dismisses losers. That’s part of the reason why people take it so hard when they botch something or lose at something after putting in significant effort to succeed. I mean: what will people think? What will they say? And how do we feel about ourselves when we fall down?
That’s a shame, right? I’m not saying that every effort has a chance of succeeding or should. Let’s be honest: some of our ideas and ventures aren’t well-thought out or sometimes we haven’t done enough homework or just plain hard work to make a success of them. But it seems to me that even some of the smartest people out there, including some of the greatest inventors of the past failed—and failed often—before ultimately succeeding. People like Thomas Edison, for example.
When I ran across this quote from Nelson Mandela, I thought about how much wisdom and truth the man packed into eight words: “I never lose. I either win or learn.” And these words were uttered by a man who spent 27 years in prison, confined and subjected to hard labor because he dared to stand up against South Africa’s apartheid government. When released from prison in 1990, after suffering great abuse, Mandela founded the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to help heal his country’s deep wounds due to human rights violations. His mission was to tell the truth and to urge people to forgive. After that he helped to spear-head the effort to end apartheid in 1994.
These were huge accomplishments after years of imprisonment; years which could have hardened Mandela and made him bitter; unable and unwilling to move forward and to forgive. Instead, he did the opposite. He was no doubt thought of for a long time as a failure, but he clearly wasn’t. In fact, he was a highly successful man and a hero who will never be forgotten. He—one man—was able to change and correct the past history and trajectory of his country because of his courage.
We can only have deep admiration and respect for a man of such solid principles and take his words to heart. “I never lose. I either win or learn.” I wonder whether we can say that about how we view ourselves and or other people.
Maybe we can consider being less hard on ourselves and others. And less judgmental. Maybe we can make our best effort at whatever we do—in life and in business—and if we fail, we might focus on learning all that we can from the experience and move on to the next challenge as Mandela suggested. When we get a few hard knocks, we can just get up and start again; every day presents us with a fresh, clean slate, after all.
But the trick is not to become angry or bitter about the bad things that happen, but to be willing to use those things in a positive manner. I think that’s the hardest thing of all. Yet Mandela showed us by his strength of character and grace that people can do it.
So let’s win or learn and never settle for losing, no matter what we undertake.