Success is Just Failure Overcome


The following is a transcript of a motivational speech I gave at the 2011 Zimbabwe Annual Cricket Awards, on November 28, 2011

Thanks for the introduction, and a special thanks to the players and staff of Zimbabwe Cricket for giving me the honor of not only attending, but participating in tonight’s event. This is indeed an historic occasion; marking Zimbabwe’s triumphant return to test cricket. And, I don’t use the term triumphant lightly, for what you’ve done is just that. You have, as we would say in the U.S., made a great comeback – and the best is yet to come.

If I may, I’d like to talk about the importance of returning or coming back. I’d like to talk about winning; and what it means to be a winner. The members of the national cricket team will remember when I spoke to them earlier this year just before they left for the ICC World Cup matches in South Asia, I said that winners are not always those with the higher scores on the board, but those who refuse to quit no matter the odds; who continue to try even when everyone tells them trying is useless.

Well, guys, this past year, you’ve done just that – and, in my book that makes you winners regardless of the final scores.

When I was growing up, one of my favorite poems was one by English poet Rudyard Kipling, called “If.” That poem has always inspired me, especially when times were toughest. The passage that I particularly like goes something like this:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

That, folks, is what it takes to be a winner; what it takes to be a success in this world. I often tell young students that I speak to that success is really nothing but a string of failures that you’ve overcome. If you’ve never been on the bottom, you really can’t appreciate being at the top. Now, you are far from the bottom, but having been away so long, it must sometimes feel like it. Believe me, I know the feeling.

I’d like to tell you about another person who made a triumphant return; who had a long string of failure before making it to the very top. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States is often viewed as one of our greatest – if not the greatest – leaders. Through perseverance and sheer will power, he held the Union together during a terrible civil war that threatened to tear the country apart.

In 1860, Lincoln was elected President of the United States, the highest elective office in the land. What you might not know, though, is that before winning that office, Lincoln was bedeviled by a long string of failures and returns in his career.

In 1832, he lost his job and was defeated in his run for a seat in the state legislature of Illinois. But, that year, he was elected captain of a company of the Illinois militia in the Black Hawk War. In 1833, the business he started after the war was over failed. He came back to be appointed postmaster of New Salem, Illinois and deputy surveyor of his county. In 1834, he finally won a seat in the state legislature. In 1835, his sweetheart died, and the following year he suffered a nervous breakdown. This didn’t, however, keep from winning reelection to the legislature or getting his license to practice law in Illinois.

In 1838, Lincoln lost his bid to be speaker of the legislature, but he won reelection to his seat and served as his party whip. In 1843, Lincoln made his first try at winning a seat in the US Congress, but lost, and lost again in 1848. In 1849 the state of Illinois refused to appoint him a land officer.

Now, if you think this was the end of his troubles, think again. In 1854, he was defeated in his campaign for a seat in the US Senate, and in 1856, he lost the bid to be vice president on his party’s ticket. He tried for the Senate again in 1858 and, yes, lost again. A lesser individual would in all likelihood have quit after so many devastating losses in such a short period of time, but not Lincoln. He persevered, and in 1860 was nominated by his party and won election as President. A famous quote attributed to Lincoln is, “M y great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” He was clearly not content with his, and despite nearly 30 years of one failure after another, he kept coming back. He went on to become one of our greatest leaders.

There’s a lesson there for all of us. It’s not important how many times you fall down. What’s important is how many times you get back up and keep pushing ahead. The only true failures are those who never try. Those words of wisdom I got from my grandmother, and I’ve tried to live by them in everything I do.
So, tonight, we celebrate returns; we salute those who keep coming back for more, who strive to be ever better. If I wore a hat, it would be doffed to you valiant young men and women, and all those who support you. You have done remarkably well, and I predict you will do even better in the time to come.

In parting, I’d like to leave you with a line I remember from some movie that I saw once. I no longer remember the movie, but I’ve never forgotten the line – “The best is yet to come.”