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"The ability to bounce back from failure or discouragements." 

(See also Lesson Plan on Resilience) 
(See also related Illustrations and Quotes under Motivation, Perseverance

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Press On Despite Criticism
(Beatles Succeed Despite Discouraging Comments)

Don't let discouraging comments get you down. Sometimes we simply need to ignore them and press forward with our passion.

Fifteen-year-old John fell in love with his guitar, playing it night and day. His Aunt Mimi, who was raising him, couldn't see the point of his obsession and would try to discourage him. Do you know what it's like to hear discouraging comments, over and over, from those you really respect and want to please? Well, John's Aunt Mimi put it it this way, 

"To me, it was just so much waste of time. I used to tell him so. 'The guitar's all very well, John, but you'll never make a living out of it.'"

But John kept right on playing, putting his heart into the music he loved. In fact he grew up to play guitar, sing and write music with one of the most popular bands ever - The Beatles.  That's right, that 15-year-old boy was John Lennon. And yes, Aunt Mimi, he did manage to eek out a living with the millions he made from that guitar.

Aunt Mimi wouldn't be the last to put down The Beatles along the way. Here were some other negative comments they endured:

  • While John attended Art College, he, Paul and George played together but apparently weren't very good. A member of another band suggested that they "weren't worth a carrot." (p. 68)

  • They managed to get a gig playing between sets at a club, but were so bad that they were ordered off stage after two songs. (p. 69)

  • When they decided to change their name to The Beatles, their promoter assured them that nobody would ever take a band with that name seriously. (p. 74)

  • They auditioned for a recording contract with Decca, but were turned down. Bands with guitars "were on the way out," the experts at Decca explained. (p. 144)

  • Their relentless manager, Brian Epstein, approached every record label he could find in the catalogue, only to be rejected at every turn. (pp. 146, 152) When they finally landed a contract, it was with a small label with a mediocre track record, obligating the label to pay the band and Epstein a mere penny per album sold. (pp. 154-158)

But The Beatles kept playing despite all the negative comments and rejections, becoming so wildly popular that they sold more albums in the United States than any other band or artist. Almost four decades after their breakup in 1970, their fan base continues to grow through games like The Beatles: Rock Band.  

Does criticism make you want to give up on your dreams? Next time you hear a Beatles song, remember all the criticism and discouragements they endured. Hang on to those dreams!

[Copyright December, 2009, J. Steve Miller and Legacy Educational Resources ( www.character-education.info ). Feel free to post with this attribution. Not for resale. Sources: Shout! The Beatles in Their Generation, by Philip Norman (New York: MJF Books, 1981) p. 35; Wikipedia, The Beatles.]


1) Why do you think Aunt Mimi tried to discourage John?
2) Why do you think so many people put The Beatles down and failed to recognize their talent?
3) When should we take criticism to heart?
4) When should we move forward in spite of criticism?
5) In what area of life do you need to move forward, despite discouraging comments?

Make the Most of Your Mistakes
How a Single Mom Corrected Her Mistakes and Made Millions

We all make mistakes. But some people go through life making the same mistakes over and over, learning nothing from them. Those who grow in their character and skills reflect on their mistakes and learn from them. Here’s how Bette Nesmith Graham, a Dallas secretary and single mother, not only learned from her mistakes, but made millions of dollars from them.

Before personal computers, secretaries used typewriters to produce documents, one page at a time. The infuriating thing about early typewriters was that every time you typed a wrong letter – and even the best of secretaries hit the wrong key regularly – you had to start over with a new sheet of paper. There was no way to correct it. You can only imagine the frustration and wasted hours that people would spend trying to type a long manuscript on a deadline. Bette felt like there had to be a better way.

In her free time, Bette was an artist. When painters make mistakes, they paint over them. She thought, why can’t I paint over my typing errors?

Putting her kitchen blender to good use, she mixed up tempera paints to match the color of her paper. With a small watercolor brush, she painted over her errors. When it dried, she could type over it. The result was so clean that her boss never noticed.

Pretty soon, the word spread and she was distributing what she named “Mistake Out” to all the secretaries in the building. Knowing that she had a marketable product, she transformed her kitchen into a lab and put her mixer into high gear. She worked hard in her spare time to build her new business, recruiting her son and his friends to fill orders. Still, they were making little money. Then she experienced a breakthrough, disguised as a failure.

At work, she made another mistake – this time not in her typing – that got her fired. Again, she used the mistake to her favor. Instead of sitting around moping, she devoted full time to mixing and bottling what she came to call Liquid Paper. Within a decade, she’d built it into a million dollar business. Later, she moved operations to a 35,000-square-foot international headquarters and churned out 500 bottles a minute, eventually selling her Liquid Paper Corporation for $47.5 million. Even in the computer age, people find many uses for Liquid Paper. Find it in your local office supply store.

Not only did she help a lot of secretaries with their typing, but she used her money to establish two foundations to help other women succeed.

Her son didn’t do so badly himself. He sang for the popular 1960’s band, The Monkees, who had their own TV show and sold over 50 million records worldwide.


1 – How did Bette turn her typing mistakes into a profitable business?

2 – What do you think allowed Bette to successfully innovate when others gave no thought to a practical solution?

3 – How did Bette turn her second mistake (getting fired) into a blessing?

4 – What mistakes do you continually make?

5 – How could you find solutions to those mistakes?

6 – Are there ways you could turn those solutions into opportunities? How? (Examples: Post solutions on the Web to increase traffic to your site. Invent a product or service to help others with the same problems.)

[Copyright March, 2011, by J. Steve Miller, www.character-education.info. Sources: SHINE, A powerful 4-step plan for becoming a star in anything  you do, by Larry A. Thompson (McGraw Hill, 2005) pp. 65-66; http://inventors.about.com/od/lstartinventions/a/liquid_paper.htm.]

Failure: The Pathway to Success
How One Football Coach Handled Failure

Bill the Failure

The Cleveland Browns' head coach was one unpopular guy. In five years he'd produced only one winning season. As if losing games wasn't bad enough, he fired Cleveland's favorite quarterback.

The press crucified him. At games, fans would chant, "Bill must go! Bill must go!" Bumper stickers called him an idiot. It got so bad that his children couldn't ride the bus to school because of other students' cruel comments.  He received so many death threats that the police had to stake out near his home. He endured for four long years. But in the end, he probably did well to escape Cleveland with his life.

From One Failure to Another

After such a horror story in Cleveland, you might wonder why anyone would risk repeating it. But Bill loved football. At age nine he was scouting teams with his dad and studying film of teams. His dad didn't push him into coaching. In school and at home he incessantly talked football, studied football and dreamed up plays. And getting older didn't put out his fire for the game. 

So when things got tough, he just worked harder.

But it takes more than football knowledge to be a head coach. Maybe Bill didn't have what it takes to motivate players, deal with the public, and chat with the press.

So everyone, including Bill, must have worried that his next head coaching job might be a repeat of the last. But he took the chance by accepting the invitation to lead the New England Patriots. The first year looked like another failure - a dismal 5 wins and 11 losses, the same record as his last season in Cleveland.

On Top of the World

But he didn't give up.

Rather than believe the crowds and the press in Cleveland, rather than listen to the detractors who doubted him in New England, he kept on working. He learned from his failures. And behind the scenes, he was building a coaching staff and a team for the future. Not a team built around a couple of flashy superstars, but a team of dedicated players who worked as a team, thought as a team and got credit as a team.

And it worked.

Today, Bill Belichick is universally acknowledged as a brilliant strategist - one of the top coaches to ever coach pro football,   Two of his Super Bowl defensive game plans are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As I write, his Patriots dominate the world of professional football, having won five straight division titles (six overall). They are one of only two teams to have ever won three Super Bowls in four years .

But it could have never happen had he thrown in the towel after five humiliating years in Cleveland and a horrid first year in New England.


Have you ever failed? Do certain subjects or skills or sports elude your grasp? Don't give up!

When people put you down, remember how the newspapers, radio and TV commentators put down Belichick. When they laugh at you, remember the bumper stickers that read, "Belichick is an idiot!" When you go through weeks and months of failure, remember Belichick's years of failure.

I suppose you could say that the road to success is often paved with failures.


1. In what ways did Bill Belichick fail?
2. In what ways did people reject him?
3. How would you have felt if you were rejected in the same way?
4. What do you think kept him going?
5. How have you faced rejection?
6. How do you know when to quit and when to keep going?
7. How can we overcome failure?

End Notes

Copyright December, 2007 by Steve Miller and Legacy Educational Resources ( www.character-education.info ). Facts from The Education of a Coach, by David Halberstam (New York: Hyperion, 2005) and Wikipedia on Bill Bellichick. 

Albert Einstein: Life Lessons for the Rest of Us

Teacher Tips: Many students concentrate on their weaknesses and conclude that they're losers. But each of us have strengths as well. This story gives hope to those obsess on their weaknesses.

Don't tell students up front who the story is about. Just refer to him as a guy named Al. This helps them to engage the story. You may want to tell them half-way through that it's someone famous and ask them to guess. If they can't guess, tell them that it's Albert Einstein, then they'll be more impressed with the rest of the story.  

Oh the Things that Poor Al Couldn’t Do

There were so many things that Al was either slow at or couldn’t seem to do at all.

Poor Al. Even as a young child, people recognized him as mentally slow. You know how parents brag at how early their child started talking? It took him so long to learn to talk that his parents consulted a doctor. After he finally started talking, he had a strange quirk of saying the sentence to himself before he said it out loud. (Mimic this.) No wonder the family maid called him “the dopey one” and other family members called him “almost backwords.” Language came so hard to him that some feared he’d never learn to speak.

Once he learned to speak and got into school, he didn’t fit in – neither with his fellow students nor with his teachers. Poor Al. Simply put, he was rather odd. Fellow students viewed him as a freak because they were obsessed with sports and he wasn’t interested at all. In academics, his school emphasized rote memorization rather than creativity, and he wasn’t good at rote learning. He did well in subjects he liked, not so good in things he didn’t like. As a result, one schoolmaster called him dull. In fact, one exasperated teacher went so far as to tell him tell him that he’d never amount to anything, was wasting everyone's time, and should drop out of school immediately.  (See Albert Einstein: A Life, by Denis Brian, 1996, John Wiley and Sons, Inc.; also Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson. Page numbers refer to Isaacson.)

He hated high school so much that he took the teacher’s advice and quit, trying to take an exam to go straight to college. But he failed the test in several subjects and had to take a formal year of college preparation. 

He finally made it to a tiny technical college and found that he did better when he studied with other students. His grades were again uneven - good at some subjects, horrible at others.(Isaacson, p. 36) He flunked a Physics class with a “1”, the worst possible grade. But he hung in there, barely passing his senior exams, one of the worst grades in his graduating class. (34)

Any guesses as to who I’m talking about? 

Ever have a hard time finding work? Poor Al. He thought he wanted to teach science, but some of his teachers wouldn’t recommend him to teaching positions. After rejection after rejection for jobs, a friend finally got him a job in a patent office, where they decided if people's inventions should be patented. It would take him 9 years after college graduation before he’d get his first teaching job. (54ff).

As if all these deficits weren’t enough, Al was incredibly absent-minded.

  • Al was so absentminded that he was always losing stuff, even as a grown-up, like the keys to his room. If he went to visit others overnight, he’d forget his clothes, or even his entire suitcase. One family friend said, “That man will never amount to anything because he can’t remember anything.” (39)

  • He was so absentminded that when he got married, he lost the key and had to wake up his landlady to get into his apartment.

  • He was so absentminded that one day he went for a walk and couldn’t find his way home. Some days, when he walked home, his wife would watch for him to get close to the front door, only to forget where he was going and start back to work. She’d rescue him and walk him into the house.

  • He was so absentminded that he chose absent-minded friends. When one of his friends was sent by train to do a task, he got off at the wrong station and had to call back to work, not only to be reminded where he was supposed to go, but what he was supposed to do when he got there.

  • He was so absentminded that when he accompanied another friend on a train, they got to talking and missed their station. They had to hop another train back the opposite direction, but missed that station as well.

  • He was so absentminded that, when writing letters, he’d often conclude them by signing the person’s name he was sending it to rather than his own name. (227)

 Poor Al. He also wasn't very good with long-term relationships. He admitted that he failed in both of his marriages, and didn’t do too well raising his kids as well. One ended up in an insane asylum.

 He never drove a car; his wife said it was too complicated for him.

 From what we've said so far, would you say that Al was a success or failure in life?

 But all we’ve talked about is what Al couldn’t do. Fortunately, he didn’t focus on his weaknesses, but his strengths. His strength was creative thinking – imagining thought experiments that involved theoretical physics. Rather than thinking in words, he thought in pictures. He’d think about things that nobody else did:

  • like what things would look like if he were to travel on a bullet at the speed of light

  • or whether space might curve, making the distance between two points not necessarily a straight line

  • or whether time might be relative rather than absolute, so that if one twin went on a space trip near the speed of light, he’d come back a different age from the twin who’d been left behind.

With his incredible imagination, he helped to prove the existence of atoms and dreamed up science’s most famous equation: e = mc2. With his brilliant thoughts, he revolutionized science.   

Al’s full name was, of course, Albert, Albert Einstein, considered by many the greatest genius who ever lived.  In 1999, Time magazine crowned him the person of the century, describing him as "the pre-eminent scientist in a century dominated by science."  

So, Einstein was like most of us – good at some things and really, really bad at others. Fortunately, he worked hard at developing his strengths, didn’t let his weaknesses hold him back, didn’t allow the criticisms of others to make him give up, and refused to give up when he was on a thought project, no matter how many years he had to fail in order to find a solution. He was also very humble, likeable, kind, played violin and could talk to anyone.

What do I learn from Einstein? I shouldn't get discouraged by focusing on my weaknesses. Instead, I should develop my strengths without letting my weaknesses get in the way.


1. What are some things that Einstein was bad at?

2. What was he good at?

3. Imagine you were Albert Einstein growing up. Would you have thought of yourself as smart or dumb? Headed for success or failure? Why

4. Einstein became very successful in his field. What can we learn about success and failure from his story?

5. How can the principles we learned from Einstein help us with our own attitudes and life goals?

(Copyright July, 2011 by Steve Miller and Legacy Educational Resources. All rights reserved.)


“The Loudest Boo for a Home Team Ever”
(Overcoming Criticism)

That’s the title of a Youtube video of Alex Smith, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, getting booed one year ago on his home field by his “fans.” Some in attendance reported that the boos got even worse as the game went on, as they tore down Smith and chanted to bring in the backup quarterback.  

(Check out the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbZ22j_X8fE .)

Problem was, the fans were frustrated and felt they’d had enough. In the 1980’s and 1990’s the 49ers established themselves as a football dynasty, winning five Super Bowls. But for the past eight seasons they lost more games than they won. Their once storied team had established itself as a perennial loser. How would they ever reach the playoffs with this second rate quarterback? Their cherished dynasty had fallen into disarray.  

Perhaps Alex was doing the best he could under the circumstances. Nobody questioned his work ethic. Perhaps the blame lay with the coaching staff. After all, the team had changed offensive coordinators seven times in the past seven years. Perhaps his offensive line wasn’t giving him enough time to complete passes. Perhaps his shoulder injuries (a separated shoulder, three torn ligaments and a broken bone) kept him from peak performance. Whatever the case, thousands of fans thought he sucked as a quarterback and didn’t mind letting him know.

If Alex reads fan comments on the web, here’s what he’d find in the Youtube booing segment I just mentioned. These acidic comments began a year ago and continued through the start of the 2011 season.  Try to put yourself in Alex Smith’s shoes. Have you felt the chill of cold verbal slams that repeat themselves endlessly in your mind? How would you have felt if the following vicious verbiage had been aimed at you?


“There's only so much incompetence a fan can take, and I cannot stand Alex anymore behind center. He's a joke!”

“Alex Smith is going on what, 6-7 yrs. in the NFL? When is this team going to realize they made a major mistake?”

“Alex Smith should not be starting for any team in the NFL. He set the franchise back 10 years. Should have been cut a long time ago.”

“Worst quarterback of all time.”

“He HAS GOT TO GO!!! Can’t waste another year waiting on him to put it all together.”

“The NFL is just too fast for him. Smith sucks!!!”

“No coach will fix this guy. He's done.”

“Every Niner fan hates Alex Smith.”

“Niner fans hate Alex Smith so much, that they even boo him in practices. And now Harbaugh wants to bring him back for a 7th season! Smith guarantees failure and deserves the boos….”

“He is ONE of the worst QBs in NFL History.”

“They'll never win with Alex at QB. You need like a hundred coaches and twenty years of excuses for this bust.”

“When nuclear war occurs, two things will survive. Cock roaches and Alex Smith. Seriously, how does this guy still have a job?”

Lesser men would have quit after the repeated boos and endless criticism, or at least would have lashed out in response. But Smith patiently endured.  

The Turnaround

This year, finally, he’s glad he endured, and the disparaging fans are eating their words. The 49ers defeated team after team as Smith showed uncanny leadership and completed passes with surgical precision. He threw the fewest interceptions of any quarterback in his league. His passing record was third in the entire NFL. They earned a playoff spot by winning 13 games and losing only three – an amazing season for any NFL team and the Niners best season since 1997.

One month ago, toward the end of their incredible 2011 winning season, the comments magically changed. Here’s what the recent comments on the same Youtube video are saying:

“I won't lie, I was booing him at home, too...But I'm cheering you now, Alex – thanks for proving us wrong and persevering!”

“All these years of being called an idiot and a dreamer have paid off. Now he is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.”

So what can we learn from Alex Smith?

1. Don’t let other’s discouraging comments control you.  As the 49ers kicker David Akers said of Smith, “I just see a guy that doesn’t really care too much what people think.”

2. Persevere through the hard times. Tight end Davis said, “He’s a strong man. “I’ve been here when Alex was getting yelled at and everybody was talking bad about him. He tends to keep his head up and just keeps on moving.” 

3. Don’t lash out against your critics or try to get even. “He is proof that a struggling player can remain humble and respectful and still ultimately succeed.”


1. How do you think Alex Smith felt each time that he was booed?

2. What do you think kept him going, even when many people had turned against him?

3. How do we decide when to believe discouraging comments and when to ignore them?

4. Someone has said that the only way to avoid all criticism is to do nothing and say nothing and be nothing. Do you think this is true? Why or why not?

5. How can we endure through criticism?


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Francisco_49ers ; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alex_Smith ; http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20050424/news_1s24sullivan.html ; http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=3579991 ; http://www.nfl.com/news/story?id=09000d5d80ab2163&template=with-video&confirm=true ; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbZ22j_X8fE ; http://www.webcitation.org/64hl0JLyN ; http://www.webcitation.org/64loMI4hl ; http://www.webcitation.org/mainframe.php

Written by J. Steve Miller for www.character-education.info , copyright Jan., 2012, all rights reserved.


What to Do With a Train Crash

When a crises can't be avoided, at least make the best out of it.  I heard the story of a man who had applied for a job as a flagman at a railroad crossing and was told he would be given the job if he could pass a test consisting of but a single question. Agreeing, the applicant was told to imagine he was a flagman at a crossing having but a single track when he suddenly observed the Continental Express train approaching from the east at 95 mph and looking in the other direction saw the Century Limited Train bearing down from the west at 100 mph.

Having further been told that the two trains were at the time 100 yards apart, the job-seeker was then asked what he would do under such a circumstance. Without hesitation, the would-be flagman responded, ''I'd get my brother-in-law."  Puzzled, the railroad's examiner inquired what good that would do, to which the job-seeker promptly replied, ''He ain't never seen a train wreck.'' (Speaker's Library of Business Stories, Griffith, Joe, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Copyright 1990.)

This week, like the flagman, some of us are up against difficult decisions or hard times. Perhaps your parents aren't getting along or someone close to you is seriously ill or injured. Maybe you're flunking a class although you've given your best. Maybe someone important to you has betrayed you. 

Well, I suppose we can either become bitter, or we can become better. The only difference in those two words is the letter "i." I may not be able to magically solve the problem, but I can choose to not give up. I can choose to make the most of my problems - learning from my heartaches and becoming stronger because of them. 

Let's choose to do that this week.

Discussion Questions

1) How did the flagman make the most out of the inevitable crash?
2) What are some negative ways that people handle tragedies and failures?
3) How can we handle tragedies and failures in positive ways?
4) What are some of the positive things that can come out of hard times?
5) How can we ensure that we become better people as a result of going through hard times?  


Critic Trashes Lord of the Rings Author
Responding to Criticism

JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was crowned Britain’s best loved book. With over 150 million copies sold, it’s the third best-selling novel ever written. The movie trilogy, based on the book, was the 6th greatest money-making film ever. These achievements give strong, if not irrefutable evidence that Tolkien is one of the greatest story-tellers to ever wield a pen. Yet, even Tolkien gets criticized by so-called experts in literature.

Although he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature (by no less than literary scholar C.S. Lewis), the most influential literary critic for determining the prize dismissed Tolkien’s work as poor writing. In his words, Tolkien "has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality." In other words, he accused Tolkien of being a mediocre writer.

My point? Critics, even brilliant critics, are often dead wrong. So don’t let criticism stop you from chasing your dreams. Listen to criticism and learn from it, but don’t make it the final judge of your worth.

Fifty years after Tolkien lost his chance for a Nobel Prize, we’ve all heard of Tolkien and his Lord of the Rings. Yet, you’ve probably never heard of Tolkien’s critic, Anders Österling. Enough said.


 1) How many of you saw or read Lord of the Rings?

2) Why do you think it was so popular?

3) When you read movie reviews or book reviews, how often do you end up disagreeing with the reviewers? What does that tell you about critics? (Their opinions are often based on subjective rather than objective factors. Sometimes they’re right; often they’re wrong.)

4) Why do we often respond so strongly to criticism about our own work?

5) How can we learn from criticism without being devastated by it?  

 By J. Steve Miller. Source: Alison Flood, JRR Tolkien's Nobel Prize Chances Dashed by 'Poor Prose', in guardian.co.uk, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2012.


Our Difficulties Can Make Us Strong

In a famous study entitled ''Cradles of Eminence,'' the authors investigated the home backgrounds of 300 highly successful people.  These 300 people had made it to the top. They were men and women whose names everyone would recognize as brilliant in their fields, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, Clara Barton, Gandhi, Einstein, and Freud.  What do you think the backgrounds of these people were like? You might be surprised.

* 3 out of 4 of the children were troubled either by poverty, by a broken home, or by parents who were rejecting, over possessive, or dominating. 

* 74 out of the 85 writers of fiction or drama and 16 out of 20 poets came from homes where, as children, they saw tense psychological drama played out by their parents.

* Physical handicaps, such as blindness, deafness, or crippled limbs characterized over one-fourth of these people. 

With all these things going against them, how did these people go on to such outstanding accomplishments? Perhaps they compensated for their weak areas by excelling in another area. Perhaps their difficult backgrounds made them hungry to succeed. Maybe they had to think more deeply about life, since their childhoods were difficult or confusing. 

Whatever the case, we need to understand that just because our family life stinks or we have physical or mental handicaps doesn't mean we're doomed to grow up as losers. Sometimes it's those difficulties or seeming defeats that motivate us to make something special out of our lives. 

As Sir Edmund Hillary said after he first failed to reach the top of Mount Everest, "Mount Everest, you have defeated me. But I will return, and I will defeat you because you can't get any bigger -- and I can!'' Sure enough, he became the first person to stand on the top of that mountain at 11:30 AM, May 29, 1953. 

This week, don't let your difficulties and defeats get you down. You can grow. Never stop climbing. 

Discussion Questions

1) What were the types of problems that these super successful people experienced as children?
2) Do you think the difficulties of their childhoods contributed to their success as adults? How?
3) How can we make sure that our difficulties work for us rather than against us?
4) What do you think Sir Edmund Hillary meant when he said, "
Mount Everest, you have defeated me. But I will return, and I will defeat you because you can't get any bigger -- and I can!'' ?
5) What's one difficulty each of us are struggling with this week that we try to look at in a more positive way? 

Passion Leads to Tenacity 

Bethany Hamilton is a surfer. And not just a casual surfer. She's committed. How do I know? First of all, she's spent enough time on her board to become a top amateur surfer in Hawaii, headed toward the pros. But I also know because of her attitude toward a surfing tragedy.

On the fateful day she woke up at 5:00 A.M. to hit the waves with her best friend, Alana. After about 30 minutes of surfing, she took a break, lying on her surfboard with her arm dangling into the water. Suddenly a 15-foot Tiger Shark clamped down on her arm and began jerking her around. When she saw the red water, she immediately knew that she'd lost her arm.

She also lost half of her blood. She'd have lost it all had her friend's father not taken a surf board leash and strapped it on as a tourniquet.

People were amazed at her calm, both during and after the event. Perhaps it had something to do with her world-view. In her own words,

"There's no time machine. I can't change it. That was God's plan for my life, and I'm going to go with it."

Although she knows she may never be able to compete again, she vows to continue surfing. Why? Listen carefully to her explanation: 

"If I was like a person that just quit surfing after this, I wouldn't be a real surfer," she said. "I'm definitely going to get back in the water."

She hopes that she can be fitted with a prosthetic arm so that she can continue surfing and playing the guitar.

Her attitude tells me something important about resilience. She found something worth enduring setbacks for. She isn't a casual surfer. She's passionate about surfing. Think again of her words, "If I was like a person that just quit surfing after this, I wouldn't be a real surfer."

Sometimes our reactions to obstacles and tragedies reveal our true convictions. Often we hear people say things like, 

I've got to wonder if Bethany might tell each of these: "Then you're not a real student. You're not a real guitarist. You're not a real band member." If they were passionate about what they were doing, they wouldn't give up so easily.  ("Shark attack doesn't deter surfer girl," Detroit Free Press, November 24, 2003)

Discussion Questions

1) What do you think Bethany meant when she said, "If I was like a person that just quit surfing after this, I wouldn't be a real surfer."
2) Why do you think Bethany refuses to let this tragedy stop her from surfing?
3) What can we learn from Bethany?
4) What are some interests that you're really passionate about?
5) How can we find areas of passion that are worth enduring for?

Games, Activities and Clips


Ask for a guy to volunteer to stay in the ring for one minute against three girls. Have him stand on a folding chair and instruct him, "You must stand your ground, with these three barbarians trying to knock you down. Stay up for thirty seconds and you win. Here is your shield. It's your only defense against the swords. You can't push or shove or grab the pillows with your hands. (Hand him a clean trash can lid for a shield. Make sure there's nothing around that he could fall on and hurt himself.) 

Get three volunteers from among the girls. Give each a pillow (not stuffed with feathers!). You may not push the gladiator with the pillow. You cannot hit him with anything else but the pillow. You have thirty seconds.  

(After that, get another guy volunteer and three different girl volunteers and play again. Give something manly, like Beef Jerky, to the guy who stays up the longest. You might get some good snapshots!)

Debriefing: How is this gladiator game a lot like life? We've all been around long enough to realize that a lot of people and circumstances slap us around along the way. Some of the big keys to success are to know where you're going, to know where you stand, and to stand your ground.  But one thing that makes the game easier is that as a Gladiator you expect the attacks. 

Imagine that before anyone gave the rules or said "Go!" one of the girls made a solid hard hit before you expected it. You'd probably fall. That's why in life we need to expect opposition. Don't be surprised when the going gets tough. Just realize that it's those same hard times that will narrow down your competition. 

Kindergarten Cop

Starring Arnold Schwartzenegger. Three clips could be used in succession. 
First Clip  - (Toward beginning of movie) - Arnold's in his element, his gifted area. He chases down a dangerous fugitive.. Ask, "Do you think he was born knowing how to do this? What training do you think he had? What kind of background experiences probably helped him? 
Second Clip - He goes to a small town on a stake-out, posing as a Kindergarten teacher. His partner was supposed to be the teacher, but she got sick. He goes to the class and fails miserably. The little urchins run all over him and he has no clue how to control him. Discussion: Why do you think he failed? Was it lack of talent, so that he was operating outside of his strength? Ask if there's another possibility. (Perhaps he has gifts here, but has never been sufficiently developed this gift. Or, perhaps this is another outlet to use the same gift he showed at the beginning of the movie: He's a leader who can take charge and think on his feet, but he's never been trained in how to use this gift for taking charge of a classroom. 
Third Clip - He goes back to the class another day after his partner gives him the "no fear" speech. He learns to control the class. Discussion: How did he have to show resilience? Why would many people have quit after the first terrible experience? How did resilience pay off? (You may want to show a concluding clip where he decided to remain in the community.) 

Defining Resilience

The Need for Resilience

Overcoming Brings Great Satisfaction

''To overcome difficulties is to experience the full delight of existence.'' (Arthur Schopenhauer)

Failing to Risk Failure Retards Progress

''Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.'' (James B. Conant)


''A ship in a safe harbor is safe, but that is not what a ship is built for.'' (William Shedd)


The fellow who never steps on anybody's toes is probably standing still. (Franklin P. Jones)

How to Develop Resilience

Don't Be Surprised at Hard Times

If everything is coming your way, then you're in the wrong lane. (Bumper Sticker)


Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? (M. Scott Peck)


Hal Urban observes that one of life’s most valuable lessons is, The world will not devote itself to making us happy.  (Urban, Hal, Life’s Greatest Lessons or 20 Things I Want My Kids to Know, Great Lessons Press, Redwood City, CA, 1997


First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.’
(Mahatma Gandhi) 


Oswald Sanders wrote, ''The crowd doesn't recognize a leader until he's gone; then they build a monument for him with the stones they threw at him in life.''


Some days you're the dog, 
and some days you're the hydrant. (Bumper Sticker)

Don't Expect Others to Understand Your Vision

When you've got a vision for some great project, don't be surprised if others who don't understand your vision think you're weird. People don't always hear the music we're dancing to. As Angela Monet said, ''Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.''

Realize How Hard Times Can Grow Us Stronger

The most firmly rooted trees are the ones that have consistently endured the worst winds and storms.


''The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor men perfected without trials.'' (Chinese proverb)


“Those things that hurt, instruct.”  (Benjamin Franklin)


Kites rise highest against the wind -- not with it. (Winston Churchill)


In a famous study by Victor and Mildred Goertzel, entitled ''Cradles of Eminence,'' the home backgrounds of 300 highly successful people were investigated. These 300 subjects had made it to the tope. They were men and women whose names everyone would recognize as brilliant in their fields, such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Winston Churchill, Albert Schweitzer, Clara Barton, Gandhi, Einstein, and Freud. The intensive investigation into their early home lives yieled some surprising findings:

* 3/4's of the children were troubled either by poverty, by a broken home, or by rejecting, over possessive, or dominating parents.

* 74 out of the 85 writers of fiction or drama and 16 out of 20 poets came from homes where, as children, they saw tense psychological drama played out by their parents.

* Physical handicaps, such as blindness, deafness, or crippled limbs characterized over one-fourth of the sample.

How did these people go on, then to such outstanding accomplishments? Most likely by compensation. They compensated for their weaknesses in one area by excelling in another.


"I probably wouldn't be in the entertainment business if I had a mother. It was a very big thing in my life, it changed me, it turned me into the warrior that I am." (Madonna, MTV interview, 1998)


Times of general calamity and confusion create great minds. The purest ore is produced from the hottest furnace, and the brightest thunderbolt is elicited from the darkest storms.


''I am grateful for all my problems. After each one was overcome, I become stronger and more able to meet those that were still to come. I grew in all my difficulties.'' (J.C. Penney)


We would never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world. (Helen Keller)


''After all, a smooth sea never made a successful sailor.'' (Herman Melville)


Life is like a teabag. It's not much good unless it's been in some hot water.


Often our deficiencies motivate us to do our best work. Composer George Frederick Handel was about to go under financially when he secluded himself and came out twenty-one days later with his masterpiece, ''The Messiah.''

Learn From Your Misfortunes

If I have learned anything, I owe it neither to precepts nor to books, but to a few opportune misfortunes. Perhaps the school of misfortune is the very best. [Louise Honorine de Choiseul (1734-1801)]


''Life is a grindstone. Whether it grinds you down or polishes you up depends upon what you are made of.'' (John Maxwell)

Make the Best out of Inevitable Crises

When a crises can't be avoided, at least make the best out of it. For example, I heard the story of a man who had applied for a job as a flagman at a railroad crossing and was told he would be given the job if he could pass a test consisting of but a single question. Agreeing, the applicant was told to imagine he was a flagman at a crossing having but a single track when he suddenly observed the Continental Express approaching from the east at 95 mph and looking in the other direction saw the Century Limited bearing down from the west at 100 mph.

Having further been told that the two trains were at the time 100 yards apart, the job-seeker was then asked what he would do under such a circumstance. Without hesitation, the would-be flagman responded, ''I'd get my brother-in-law." Puzzled, the railroad's examiner inquired what good that would do, to which the job-seeker promptly replied, ''He ain't never seen a train wreck.'' (Speaker's Library of Business Stories, Griffith, Joe, Prentice-Hall, Inc., Copyright 1990.)

Be Willing to Change

When you're through changing, you're through. (Bruce Barton)


''There is nothing wrong in change if it is in the right direction. To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to have changed often.'' (Winston Churchill)


''The entrepreneurial mind-set continues to thrive at Microsoft because one of our major goals is to reinvent ourselves - we have to make sure that we are the ones replacing our products instead of someone else.'' (George Taninecz, ''Gates Wins Respect,'' Industry Week, Nov. 20, 1995, p. 12.)


One must change one`s tactics every ten years if one wishes to maintain one's superiority. (Napoleon Bonaparte)

Try New Approaches

One secret to success is finding our niche. Often, failures in one area lead people to try new things. For humans, time flies when you're having fun. But for a bullfrog, time's fun when you're having flies. You've got to find your niche.


No failure in life is as final as the failure to find out what you do best. (Bernie Weiner, U.S. Shoe)


''We tell our people that if no one laughs at at least one of their ideas, they're probably not being creative enough.'' (Bill Gates, ''Office 'Retreat' Should Be Work,'' New York Times Special Features, October 9, 1996)

Lean on Others

When we fail because of personal failures such as drug addiction, obsessive buying or gambling, it's easy to fall for the lie that EVERYONE is using drugs and NOBODY ever gets off the drug we're on. 

I was talking to a drug addict this week who told me that he thought 80% of his town was on methamphetamines. (Seemed kind of high to me.)  He didn't know any addict who'd beaten them. (I thought, surely someone has.) Yet, I urged him to make a phone call to a local person associated with Narcotics Anonymous. Not only was this former addict free from meth, but he said that he had 50 other local former addicts who'd support him.  

When we fail because of destructive personal habits, it's important to find others who we can join with in the battle.  Don't fall for the lie that you've got to fight your battle alone. 

Keep Learning!

In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists. (Al Rogers, Global Schoolhouse Network)

Keep Growing Stronger!

Mount Everest, you have defeated me. But I will return, and I will defeat you because you can't get any bigger -- and I can!'' [Sir Edmund Hillary, who eventually became the first person to reach the top at 11:30 am on May 29, 1953.]


I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink, but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death. [Thomas Paine (1737-1809)]

Greater Difficulty Can Result in Greater Glory

''The greater the difficulty, the greater the glory.'' (Cicero)

Learn to Live With Some Pain

In the 1976 Summer Olympics, 26-year-old Gymnast Shun Fujimoto suffered a broken right knee in the floor exercise. But his physical ailment didn't stop him in his quest for the gold. During the next week he continued his competition in his strongest event, the rings. His routine was excellent, but then astounded everyone by squarely dismounting with a triple somersault twist on his broken right knee. When asked concerning his feat, he said, ''Yes, the pain shot through me like a knife. It brought tears to my eyes. But now I have a gold medal and the pain is gone.'' (Newsweek, August 2, 1976)

Keep Your Optimism

''I was 52 years old. I had diabetes and incipient arthritis. I had lost my gall bladder and most of my thyroid gland in earlier campaigns, but I was convinced that the best was ahead of me.'' (Ray Kroc, who built the McDonald's Corporation from a handful of hamburger stands into the world's largest food chain.) (From the Time 100 site, at http://www.time.com/time/time100/builder/profile/kroc2.html )


When Nathaniel Hawthorne went home to tell his wife that he had been fired from his job in a customhouse, he was heartbroken. He confessed to her that he was complete failure. Rather than weeping hysterically, as he expected, she surprised him by clapping her hands with joy.

'Now, you can write your book," Sophia exclaimed.

''What shall we live on while I am writing it?'' her practical husband replied. 

To his amazement, Sophia opened a drawer and pulled out a substantial amount of money. ''I have always known that you were a man of genius. I knew that someday you would write a masterpiece. So every week out of the money you have given me for housekeeping, I have saved something; here is enough to last us for one whole year."

From her trust and confidence in her husband came one of the greatest novels of American literature. The Scarlet Letter was written in 1850, quickly followed by The House of Seven Gables, cementing Hawthorne's place in literary history.

(Written by CK Miller from info from Nathaniel Hawthorne's biography & Joe Griffith's Speaker's Library of Business Quotes.)

Reach Out to Others

''Researchers at Duke University found that one of the best indicators of happiness and a long life was the ability to reach out to others when our own worries threaten to overcome us." (Group Magazine, March/April, 1998)


Bill had been an alcoholic for about twenty years. His addiction had ruined his life to such an extent that he was close to being committed to an asylum. After being alcohol free for months, he found himself out of town on a business trip, alone, and being drawn to the laughter in the hotel bar. What could he do?

It occurred to him that what helped him stay sober in his hometown was helping other alcoholics. In helping others, he was helped. By keeping others away from alcohol, he was enabled to stay away. 

So he found the nearest phone and called a local minister, hoping that he might know some alcoholics. He called nine people without finding anyone. The bar was still tempting him. He was feeling desperate, but he desperately wanted to stay sober. So back to the phone. Finally, he struck gold -- a long-term alcoholic named Bob. Bill went to visit him for supper at 5:00 PM and struck up a conversation that lasted till midnight. 

Why did Bob listen? Because Bill had experienced alcoholism.

The end of the story? Bob resisted the hotel bar. Bill won the battle against alcohol. Together, they formed Alcoholics Anonymous. Today, in 140 countries, two million people attend AA meetings each week.  Two million people helping themselves by helping others. This vast movement may have never gotten off the ground if Bill hadn't decided to fight his weakness by helping another person with his weakness.  [Copyright January, 2004, Legacy Educational Resources. Source - Bill W.: A Biography of Alcoholics Anonymous Cofounder Bill Wilson, by Francis Hartigan (St. Martin's Press, New York, March, 2000), p. 74-86]


Let me tell you the story of a young boy in today's world who encountered a tough situation. Instead of becoming bitter, he determined to make the world a better place.

When Jon Wagner-Holtz was nine years old, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. His family was devastated. After surgery his mom had to take regular chemotherapy, which made her weak and sick to her stomach. It made Jon really angry that his mom, being such a nice person, would get such an illness. She could tell he was hurting and sent him to a counselor, but it didn't help because he didn't like the idea of opening up to someone who had never gone through what he was going through. So he spent a lot of time alone in his room playing with Lego's.

His mom attended a support group made up of other people fighting cancer. Then Jon got an idea: since many of these cancer patients had children who were hurting just like he was, why couldn't he start a support group for the children? So he did it.

He told a foundation about his dream and they gave him a little money to set up a twenty-four-hour hot line into his room. Kids started calling, opening up about their anger, sadness and fear. Around 100 kids called him and eight or nine of them called regularly. One weekend he invited the regular callers to his house to brainstorm about ways to start a support group. The kids interviewed some psychologists and found one who could help oversee a support group. They didn't want him to run the show just to be there so that hurting kids could listen to each other, tell about their problems and give ideas for how they were coping. Thirty-two kids came to the first meeting and they continued to meet. Kids were helped. They felt they were no longer alone. By helping others, Jon felt better himself. They called their new organization ''Kids Connected.''

They sent flyers to doctors to let as many kids as possible know about the meetings. Other chapters formed. More charities offered money. Six years later they've got eighteen chapters in twelve states, helping nearly 10,000 kids. They offer a summer camp, send Teddy Bears to kids in newly diagnosed families, started a grief workshop for those whose parents died. During his high school years he went to school in the morning and checked in to work for ''Kids Connected'' at 12:30 PM. (Copyright Dec., 2001. Written by Steve Miller for the illustration database at www.reach-out.org. Source: Teens With the Courage to Give, by Jackie Waldman, Conari Press, Berkeley, California, pp. 2-7.)

Don't Listen to Discouragers

A group of frogs were traveling through the woods, when two of them fell into a deep pit. All the other frogs gathered around the pit.

When they saw how deep the pit was, they told the two frogs that they were as good as dead. The two frogs ignored the comments and tried to jump out of the pit with all of their might. The other frogs kept telling them to stop - it was useless to keep trying. 

Finally, one of the frogs took heed to what the other frogs were saying and gave up. He fell down and died.

The other frog continued to jump as hard as he could. Once again, the crowd of frogs yelled at him to stop the pain and just die. He jumped even harder and finally made it out.

When he got out, the other frogs said, ''Didn't you hear us?'' The frog explained to them that he was deaf. He thought they were encouraging him the entire time.

My point? Sometimes we have to turn a deaf ear toward criticism if we want to make something out of our lives. 

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