The defeat dichotomy

Yes, we know that defeat is the opposite of victory. But in biographies, defeat is often the obstacle folks need to overcome to achieve success.

Who wants to read a story about somebody who always wins, or never faces a disappointment or dilemma?

Charles Dickens, Benjamin Franklin, Davy Crockett, Mark Twain, Helen Keller, Franklin Roosevelt, and Rosa Parks all lead completely different lives. But their greatness came from facing a dilemma — or a defeat — and then overcoming it.

The secret: The values most of us want to communicate are honesty, integrity, kindness, and striving to improve oneself each day. Biographies about people who overcame hardships to achieve success are the best way to communicate those values.

Experience adds depth to stories

While gathering data on success, I spent lots of time looking at biographies. I wanted to find some common “success thread.” Did these famous people have anything in common?

I also interviewed many successful friends and business associates. I asked them about significant events in their lives, and what steps they’d taken to advance their careers.

A few modestly attributed success to timing and luck. Some said they prepared for one profession, but ended up doing something completely different.

Most insisted that somewhere along the way, they learned something special from a parent, role model, teacher, co-worker, or friend.

Isaac Newton is one of several credited with the quote that “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” 

We are all a product of the past. When we sit down to write, we must link to the future. What insights from the life you’ve lived so far will help you with the story you must write tomorrow?