Summer Rerun: Once I Built a Railroad

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Today’s post originally appeared in August 2012, and tackles the subject of how life can take a sudden turn. It’s the power of acceptance and resilience that gets us through tough times.

Once I built a railroad

Once I built a railroad, made it run, made it race against time.

Once I built a railroad, now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime.

Once I built a tower to the sun – brick and rivet and lime.

Once I built a tower, now it’s done. Brother, can you spare a dime.

– Yip Harburg

These lyrics from a 1931 Great Depression era song, tell how great achievements can be followed by resounding defeat. They remind us no matter how high we ride; sometimes our successes come crashing down. It doesn’t take much. A couple of weeks ago, the Canadian 4×100 team found out that one foot on the line meant no bronze medal after months of hard training. The women’s soccer team, and most of Canada, saw firsthand how one opinion could move their destiny in a different direction.

We don’t need to be Olympic athletes to feel the agony of defeat.  Losing a job we believed secure can send us spiraling into fear and hopelessness. We picture ourselves pushing our worldly belongings in a shopping cart, begging for handouts and never being able to recover.  Getting passed by for a promotion or extra responsibility can have the same negative effect. We feel unrecognized and doomed to mediocrity.

When a solid sales lead gets snatched away by competition, or the contract for a key project is won by a contender, the sense of exasperation and defeat can be numbing. All our hopes were on winning, and the time and energy we spent seems wasted and pointless.

Fear not – the apocalypse can be held at bay. Athletes know this, and their techniques to overcome a major loss or crisis can be adopted by us all. First, they allow themselves to mourn the loss. Being able to live in the emotion of the moment is an important part of being able to move on. Admitting when we are wrong or when something was our fault is the second step. This comes down to personal integrity and the willingness to acknowledge our failures are not always caused by someone else. Equally important is recognizing that even when we do our best, sometimes circumstances beyond our control affect the outcome of our endeavours. (You can score goal after goal, but one day the gods are just not with you.)

Acceptance of what’s happened and realizing we can’t change the past is next. Many of the athletes at the London games were there to represent their countries after rebounding from devastating accidents and personal setbacks. They chose to learn from the past, then let go of it and focus on the future. Through hard work and perseverance they experienced success again. We can too.


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