3 ingredients for turning defeat into victory

I’ve been a Falcons fan for as long as I can remember. When the Superbowls came each year, I’d always just pick the team with the best jerseys or the player that I liked the most; I never could find the will to really truly pull for a team from another city. And then this year came. This was the year. All the other teams (well, almost all) had had their time; this was going to be our time.

Then it happened. Defeat. It still hurts to talk about, and I’m just a fan. For the players, it must hurt on another level. It’s hard to go on — to get back into the game and try again. You just want time to stand still for a while, so you can just go hide and not have to face that situation again.

Put yourself in that situation.

We’ve all probably had a similar experience. Mine was at an old job. My boss called me into his office one day.

“Yeah… it’s not really working out for you here like we thought it would,” he said.

I can still remember going home and kind of curling up on the couch next to my wife and saying, “I don’t want to go back there.” I was defeated.

How did it turn out?

Two years later, I went into the same boss’s office to tell him I was leaving. He had given me three raises and a good deal more responsibility over the past two years. Things had changed. He sat back in his chair, took off his glasses, rubbed his eyes. He called his wife into the room (this was a small company).

“Are you sure?” He said.

“We were thinking you’d be a candidate for long-term management.” 

“Sorry,” I said. “The decision has been made.”

How do you take a bad situation and turn it around?

Looking at that situation from my current perspective, I can see it as a growing experience. I can see the things I should have done in the beginning, and how I started to change things, and I can understand how I moved forward. But when you are in the middle of those situations, it’s usually really, really hard to see how they can ever be changed. 

So here are a few things that I can see now, now that I have been able to put some distance between myself and that experience.

This too shall pass.

I can remember sitting on that couch, feeling worthless. I didn’t want to go back to that office, see those people again, because I didn’t see how I would ever get out from under the failures of that day. But the truth was that that situation would eventually be but a distant memory — a minuscule drop of the vast sea of experiences of life.

As it was, I went back into work the next day, and I kept on trying, even though I didn’t really understand why. This understanding would’ve given me more motivation.

You can come back from anything.

I believe in redemption; I believe in reconciliation. I believe in it in all circumstances, in relationships, in work, in play. The first thing that is necessary in coming back and seeking redemption is to admit one’s failures. If you can admit to yourself, and to other relevant people, that you failed and you want to make things right, you can come back from any situation, and emerge stronger than before.

Only a few things truly matter.

There are only a few things that are of ultimate importance and you have to decide what those things are. The placement of one’s desk, a nice expense account, the office pecking order, a company car, social status in the workplace — these are things that people spend lots of money on, and lose a lot of sleep over, but ultimately, at the end of one’s life, won’t matter a whole lot. When you have that perspective on your circumstances, it brings a lot of clarity to the question of what to do next.

So what do you do next?

Remember that all circumstances will eventually come to an end.  If you lose sleep, lose sleep over the things that truly matter, and let everything else sort itself out. And make a decision that you can come back from anything. That is how you can turn defeat into success.

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A Video That Will Change Your Life.

Watch this video on the ESPN website here.

To understand me, you’ve got to know something about basketball.

When I was a kid, I loved basketball. I would play all day, and on the weekends I would watch it on TV. But I remember, about halfway through my teenage years, TBS, one of our Atlanta TV stations, began broadcasting NBA basketball on Wednesday nights. And that is when I became acquainted with Ernie Johnson, Jr.

Ernie was the host of the weekly broadcast — called “Inside the NBA” — and Ernie still is the host, nearly 20 years later. On the rare occasions in recent years when I’ve been in the U.S. during the NBA season, I’ve watched it a few times. I am not making this up: I think there are few things that can immediately take me back in time to my teenage years like watching that show.

Ernie Johnson, Jr.

I remember reading about Ernie coming down with cancer and announcing it publicly on the show. By that time, I was out of college and was already in the process of moving to Sarajevo, but I remember it. I didn’t know him — to me, he was just someone I had seen on TV — but I felt sad for him as I knew he was in a difficult situation. It made me appreciate the show a bit more and look for a chance to catch it if I was in the right place at the right time.

Then, today, I saw the video I embedded above from a post on social media. At first I thought, “Oh, I know who that is.”

And then I saw him, shaving his son’s face. And suddenly this minute-long video became potentially life-changing.

Suddenly the man I used to only know through seeing his face show up on the glass and plastic box in my living room became a fellow Atlanta church member, a fellow struggler, trying to navigate through the waters of the life that God gave him. Suddenly there was a lot more to him than basketball.

More to the story

Ernie Johnson lives in the Atlanta area, and has been working in broadcasting since 1981. His father, Ernie Johnson, Sr., was a major league pitcher and famous play-by-play announcer for the Atlanta Braves. That’s how most people know of him. But what many people who hear his voice don’t know is that the man and his wife have adopted 4 children during their 30-year marriage, in addition to having 2 biological children.

The son in the video is Michael, who is ethnically Romanian. He suffers from muscular dystrophy, and today breathes through a ventilator. His family cares for him completely; he is unable to do anything for himself.

From an interview for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

“He’s on a ventilator with a ‘trake’ (tracheostomy tube),” Johnson says. “We’ve all become very good nurses, everybody in the family. We know how to suction his lungs. He has overnight nursing, but during the day it’s me or my wife or my oldest daughter if she’s got a day off.”

Anyway, to make a really, really long story short, the video and my subsequent research got me to thinking.

Ernie and his wife take care of Michael, day after day. They take him to the car show down at the World Congress Center. And they love him — not just in words, but in deed after deed after deed.

And then you hear Charles Barkley say, “I don’t have that… courage.”

You hear Shaq say, “Man, if it weren’t for Ernie, our show would be torrrrrible.”

And you hear all these people talk about what a great person he is.

Now, I know that nobody is perfect. Everyone lets a cuss word slip (even my 6-year-old!) every once in a while. Everyone does things they wish they hadn’t done. And I’m sure that is true for Ernie.

But when you see the story of him taking care of his son, the story of his battle with cancer, the stories of how much people admire him, the stories of his generosity… you begin to realize that you are observing something really significant. And you begin to wish or hope that you could be so generous, admirable, or kind.

You Wanna Adopt?



I don’t care about being admirable, really. It’s not that important to have people say a whole bunch of nice things about me. But I think the thing that is important is something called will. 

I don’t need to have all of Ernie Johnson’s experiences. I don’t need to have cancer, and I don’t really need to adopt a boy with muscular dystrophy. But what I need is to be willing to do so. If I’m not willing, then my life is going to be just all about me.

All about how other people have disrespected me.

How other people have done me wrong.

How I’ve had life harder than so many other people.

But if my will can be altered just a little, so that I am willing to give a little bit more of myself if necessary, then I think that might be the key.  I want to be willing.

Tonight, as I held my 2-week-old daughter, I looked at my wife and said, “do you think we could ever adopt?” 

That thought had never seriously crossed my mind before tonight. And, to be sure, it wasn’t just because of a 2-minute video that someone posted on Facebook, that I asked my wife something so serious. But tonight something was different about it. Tonight I wanted to do it — not because I wanted to be like Ernie Johnson, but because I wanted to be willing to give more of myself than I ever thought I could in a situation that I never thought I would experience. Deep down I knew somehow that giving myself away was the key to becoming who I was created to be.

I want to be willing. Do you?