Turning Defeat into Success

Published on August 15, 2018

In June 2014 I had the opportunity to provide some concluding remarks and summarize my year as president of the National Speakers Association at their annual convention. The year had been the journey of a lifetime, and it was also my best year in business. I felt like I was on the top of the world until it came crashing down a few months later.

Over the next two-and-a-half years, I had nine surgeries, primarily on my back. The final surgery, in December of 2016, was the longest and most difficult to recuperate from. I’d had nine levels of my spine fused. To put this in perspective, usually, people only have one or two levels fused (i.e. Tiger Woods); nine is roughly half of your back, and, not surprisingly, I lost some mobility.

Nearly two years after that last procedure, I am still working with my trainer to rebuild the muscles in my back and gain whatever flexibility I can. Finally, this past Memorial Day weekend, I was released by my surgeon to pick up a golf club. I stood with trepidation with my golf pro, fearful of what it would look and feel like to swing a club again. The pro knew my situation and was prepared to teach me a new swing that would work for my level of flexibility. That first lesson felt good in that I swung the club, even though the results were less than desirable.

The next lesson went better, and I told the pro it would probably take two months before I would be ready to get back on the golf course.  He said I could do it right away. I objected, but he said the sooner I did it, the quicker I would regain my swing. He asserted that although my issue was a physical one, it was also one laced with much fear and mental trepidation.

So I went out and played nine holes. It felt great to be on the golf course. There was still a lot of work to be done but just being on the course after more than two years worked wonders. It had been so long since I’d seen any light at the end of the tunnel. Being on that course felt like magic.

The following week I played 11 holes.  At that point, my back muscles started to hurt and I knew it was time to quit. Instead of getting down on myself for not finishing 18 holes, I congratulated myself on going two more holes and knowing it is a process to get back to where I once was.

Today, I can proudly report that I’m playing 18 holes with little to no side effects.

All of us have had some kind of significant defeat in our lives.  It could be the loss of a major deal, a rejection that sent us into a mental tailspin, a physical issue that came out of the blue, or a business that went bad.  It’s your story, and you can fill in the blank for yourself. 

As I have reflected on my journey, I have come up with five keys to turning defeats into opportunities:

  1. Surround Yourself With Great People. You need people who will show you empathy and be caring, but who will not allow you to stay in your rut for long. Rely on people who will not allow you to wallow in your feelings of despair.
  2. Vision. What outcome are you seeking? You need something that you value enough to fight through the obstacles to get there.
  3. World-Class Experts. You need experts you trust to help you figure out the issues at hand and provide solutions and guidance as you strive to regain your mojo.
  4. Commitment. You need perseverance and commitment to get back on that proverbial bicycle and start pedaling to generate the results you are after.
  5. Personal Empathy. Beating yourself up won’t help. You need to be kind to yourself. Accept the results as they come one by one. Remember that success takes time. Be patient and keep encouraging yourself to get right back up every time you fall.

These five keys to overcoming defeat are not limited to life-changing challenges. They can help you deal with any setback—when you lose a critical deal, suffer a financial loss, or miss out on an opportunity. Defeat can come in many forms, but success can always follow it. 

Most successes are built on top of our defeats. My golf swing is actually getting better than it was before the surgeries because my lack of flexibility does not allow me to move my body unnecessarily, something that has limited my ability to hit the ball well in the past. Add to that the life lessons I learned from this experience and you can only guess how much stronger and more empathetic I am in relating to my audiences to help them achieve their own breakthroughs.

We’ve all heard about making lemonade with the lemons life gives us. I’m curious what kind of lemonade you’ve made with yours. Please share your success stories below and let us know how you have dealt with defeat, and don’t forget to share this post with people you care about.