How Defeat Makes Us Grow: The Value of Perseverance


Last weekend was difficult for me as a parent. It was my son’s first wrestling meet, and he was up against two tough and experienced kids. In his first match, against the eventual winner of his weight group, his face was slammed into the mat after ten seconds, causing a gushing bloody nose. Through tears, a heaving chest and cotton stoppers in his nose, he fought hard through the rest of it.

Afterwards, he was sprawled out against the bleachers, skin red and scraped, dried blood on his face, red eyes, barely able to speak. His coach crouched next to him, encouraging him, telling him what he did well, reminding him that he would improve with practice.

It wasn’t how I’d envisioned this to unfold. He had held his own in the early season practices. Not only is he a tough kid, he’s had success in other sports, and he was really fired up for this wrestling meet.

So, there we were, after the coach walked away, before my son’s name was called to get back on the mat for his second match.

I wanted to take away the feeling of defeat for him. I’ve felt it, too, and it hurts. I looked at him and asked one question.

“Do you know what this is about?”

Still teary, he looked at me and said with conviction, “Perseverance.”

And he got back out on the mat for round two.

Defeated boxer hangs his head after the fight

The Defeats We All Face

I remember the bruising defeat I felt when I first starting out in our business. I’d come home to my wife, and she’d ask me whether I’d sold any enrollments in a Dale Carnegie program that day.

“No,” I’d repeatedly mutter, swaying between anxiety and resignation.

But I knew that others had succeeded in this business, so I kept getting out of bed and putting on a suit and tie. I kept picking up the phone and considering creative approaches to succeed.

Rejection and defeat were so painful. (And still are!) Eventually, though, momentum built. And I wonder what I’d have thought then if I knew what I know now: that this perseverance produced a toughness, resilience and spirit of possibility inside of me.

My son didn’t win round two either. But he got back out there and worked his hardest. With time and practice, wins will come. He’ll learn ways to work not only hard, but smart. For now, I was proudest as a father to watch him persevere through defeat with a determined, humbled spirit.

And so it is with you and me and the people we lead. Success makes us happy. Defeat makes us grow.

Where do you need perseverance?

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4 Comments

  • Carrie asanji
    December 16, 2016 at 8:32 pm

    Matt, such a beautiful and meaningful message! It brought tears to my eyes as you described watching his defeat, I know how hard that is as a parent. Yet, what a beautiful exchange between the two of you as he expressed his understanding of the lesson behind the pain…beautiful and such a great message to all of us.

    • Matt Norman
      December 17, 2016 at 3:59 pm

      Thank you, Carrie. I really appreciate your comment, especially knowing how much experience you have leading kids. Thank you again.

  • Susan Arico
    December 17, 2016 at 11:28 am

    I love this. One of your best pieces, I think. This line about your early years with Dale Carnegie really resonates with me: “But I knew that others had succeeded in this business…”
    I think about this concept EVERY day in this season when I work on my Greek. I think of the three Americans I know who (against odds and fairly unusually) became fluent in the language and remind myself – this language can be mastered. Why not me?
    Perseverance is beautiful. So very unfun, but beautiful.
    Thank you.

    • Matt Norman
      December 17, 2016 at 4:01 pm

      Thank you, Susan. It’s very interesting to hear about how it applies to your learning Greek. It must be so tiring. Love your line, “So very unfun, but beautiful.” Thank you again.

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