Nineteenth-century British writer Eliza Tabor said, “Disappointment to a noble soul is what cold water is to burning metal; it strengthens it, tempers, intensifies, but never destroys it.”
Disappointment is a reality in the life of every person, yet far too often we look upon it as failure. If we apply for a job and don’t get hired, if we ask a person out and they say no, or if we try out for a team and get cut, we can’t help but feel a pang of rejection.
Disappointment has the potential to destroy us but it can also make us great. What determines the difference?
The key is in becoming a “noble soul.” But what does that mean?
There are many other terms we use for this type of person: resilient, unsinkable and determined, to name a few. Ultimately it’s a person who knows that even if they don’t achieve their goals, they never have to live with regret because they know that they’ve done their very best.
We often hear children saying that they’re going to be astronauts, play in the National Hockey League or become famous entertainers. It’s very tempting to tell them the unlikelihood of these goals and tell them to be realistic.
I would adamantly disagree with this. It’s important to dream and have goals, no matter how preposterous they may appear. It’s in working toward these goals that we develop our character. It’s up to the individual to determine when or if they need to divert their attention elsewhere.
While I dreamed of becoming a Major League Baseball player, I knew quite early in my career that I didn’t have the physical attributes to achieve this goal. Nobody had to tell me this; I could calculate my batting average. That didn’t stop me from playing the game I loved and working to be the best I could be.
It didn’t take me long to find a path in life where I could succeed, a way to make it ‘to the big leagues’ in my own mind. I found a career that I loved, while continuing to enjoy watching and playing baseball. The principles I learned to live by in training, playing, sitting the bench and even being cut from the team helped to make me the growth-minded, resilient person I am today.
How then do we teach this principle?
One way is to make clear to our young people that they’re in charge of their own lives. It’s not in their genes, who their parents are or where they live. Those are external factors that can make achieving a goal easier or harder, but they don’t determine a person’s ability to achieve greatness.
Another key principle is that there’s no such thing as failure, there are only degrees of success. I may not have received a passing mark on a test, but if I can determine what I need to do to improve my performance, and then display the perseverance to carry out a plan for improvement, I’ve indeed been successful.
As each new group enters my classroom, I’m reminded that I’m surrounded by greatness. The gifts of each person may or may not be obvious. My job is to teach them that they’re the ones who determine their success, to give them the tools they need to develop their gifts, to cheer them on when they try, and to foster the self-confidence to keep moving forward.
Ultimately, the words of the great football coach Vince Lombardi ring true: “It’s not whether you get knocked down. It’s whether you get up.”
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.