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Failure is an inside job

By John C. Maxwell | October 11, 2010
Failure is an inside job

Failing Street

Photo from Flickr, Chris Daniel’s Photostream

His name is Roger Crawford, and he makes his living as a consultant and public speaker.  He’s written a few books, and travels all across the country working with Fortune 500 companies, national and state associations, and school districts.

Those aren’t bad credentials.  But if that doesn’t impress you, how about this: before becoming a consultant, he was a varsity tennis player for Loyola Marymount University and later became a professional tennis player certified by the United States Professional Tennis Association.  Still not impressed?  Would you change your opinion if I told you Roger has no hands and only one foot?

Roger Crawford was born with a condition called ectrodactylism.  When he emerged from his mother’s womb, the doctors saw that he had a thumb-like projection extending out of his right forearm, and a thumb and finger growing out of his left forearm.  He had no palms.  His legs and arms were shortened.  And his left leg possessed a shrunken foot with only three toes.  (The foot was amputated when he was five.)  Roger’s parents were told by various medical professionals that he would never be able to walk, probably would not be able to take care of himself, and would never lead a normal life.

After recovering from the shock, Roger’s parents determined to give him the best chance possible for living a normal life. They raised him to feel loved, to be strong, and to develop independence.  “You’re only as handicapped as you want to be,” his father used to tell him.

When he was old enough, they sent him to regular public schools.  They involved him in sports.  They encouraged him to do everything his heart desired.  And they taught him to think positively.

“Something my parents never did was to allow me to feel sorry for myself, or to take advantage of people because of my handicap,” observes Roger.

Roger appreciated the encouragement and training he received from his parents, but I don’t think he really understood the significance of it or his achievements until he was in college and he interacted with someone who wanted to meet him.  He had received a phone called from a man who had read about his tennis victories, and Crawford agreed to meet him at a nearby restaurant.  When Roger stood up to shake hands with the man, he discovered that the other guy had hands that were almost identical to his.  That got Crawford excited, because he thought he had found someone similar to him but older who could act as his mentor.  But after talking with the stranger for a few minutes, he realized he was wrong.  Roger says,

Instead, what I found was someone with a bitter, pessimistic attitude who blamed all of life’s disappointments and failures on his anatomy.

I soon recognized that our lives and attitudes couldn’t have been more different. . . .  He had never held a job for long, and he was sure this was because of “discrimination”–certainly not because (as he admitted) he was constantly late, frequently absent, and failed to take any responsibility for his work.  His attitude was, “The world owes me,” and his problem was that the world disagreed.  He was even angry with me because I didn’t share his despair.

We kept in touch for several years, until it dawned on me that even if some miracle were suddenly to give him a perfect body, his unhappiness and lack of success wouldn’t change.  He would still be at the same place in his life.

That man had allowed failure to seize him from the inside, while Roger had mastered the art of failing forward.

Chances are that the adversity in your life has been nowhere near as difficult as Roger Crawford’s has been.  And that’s why his story is such an inspiration.  Roger maintains, “Handicaps can only disable us if we let them.  This is true not only of physical challenges, but of emotional and intellectual ones as well. . . .  I believe that real and lasting limitations are created in our minds, not our bodies.”  In other words, no matter what happens, failure is an inside job.

Adapted from Failing Forward

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