Home > Uncategorized > The Gift of Confidence from the Ashes of Defeat

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’
-Eleanor Roosevelt


DefeatImagine being slammed against a cage. No matter what you do… how well you cover, fists slip between your hands pounding your face. You throw a hook hoping to disrupt the assault, but you hit only air and leave an opening where you take another solid hit. The edge of a four-ounce glove opens a gash along you cheek bone. You hear groans. You know the groans are your mom, your wife, your best friend and the people who gave up their time to train you. Your corner is yelling advice that you try to follow but really all you can do is get hit again. Then everything goes black and you know nothing else until you’re with the ref and your opponent whose hand is raised high. The crowd cheers for him. Then you have to endure phrases like, “good try,” and “hey at least you got in there and did it. That’s more than I can say.” The truth is you lost. You failed.


One of the most important things a martial artist does in the dojo is fail. In the Life Skills from the Dojo blog post The Dojo – Our Quiet Little Koi Pond, we discuss the little failures that happen every time you step on the mat. They pave the way to long-term success like bricks laid one after the other – tapped into place so, in the end, they fit together perfectly forming a solid walkway. However, it is the big failures that define who we are. I wrote about my son failing his black belt test in Falling Down and Getting up. It was failing that test, picking himself up and doing what it took to pass it the next time, that taught him who he is. A gift is presented in these big failures, the gift of true confidence.


Winning and never experiencing failure can produce a kind of confidence. It’s a hollow airy confidence and we usually describe it as arrogance or cockiness. Like any good structure, confidence needs to be built from the ground up. The deeper the failure, the deeper and more stable the foundation. That person is not only confident that they can win, they are confident that, if they don’t, they can pick themselves up from a devastating failure and move on.


A colleague of mine who is working hard to learn technology sales and build a base of customers is also a mixed martial arts fighter. As a fighter he is confidant. He lost his very first fight, was defeated in the cage, trained hard and came back to win all of his subsequent fights. Recently, as a salesperson, he spent several months working with a prospect to devise a telecom solution. In the end the prospect went with another company. This would have been his first big win but, like his experience as a fighter, he lost. Sure, he was disappointed, frustrated and his ego damaged. It was a lot of hard work without a pay day. But it was not without value.


A defeat like that is nothing short of a cheap education. The lessons learned in that experience alone rival the best semester in college. More importantly, the heart gained by picking himself up, starting from the beginning and looking for the next deal can’t be taught. Most importantly, when he has that next deal, he will approach it with a new confidence knowing he can handle the worse it has to offer. Many people would have crumbled under the defeat but not this fighter. He used it as a foundation to build from. In fact, he got back in touch with the customer that he lost the deal with and had a “postmortem” conversation. It turns out, that emotionally, the customer really wanted to go with him. So much so he is looking for another way to work with him… the next deal that comes along will be his. Most people wouldn’t have had the confidence to make that last call. Not true for a fighter. At the end of a loss they always pick themselves up, dust themselves off and shake the hand of their victor. That is where true confidence comes from.

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