Triumph and Disaster - Those Two Imposters

Frank Newberryin Training & Education

Frank Grant and Will AELTC for Pitchcare
Above the players' entrance of the Centre Court at Wimbledon is an inscription that reads: "If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same".

These sixteen words are lines eleven and twelve of Rudyard Kipling's popular poem 'If' which you may recall begins: "If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you".

The great highs of triumph

At this point, to bring this piece closer to you personally, you may wish to pause to reflect and then insert into this unfolding narrative the names of well-known politicians, sporting heroes, famous entertainers, people in our own industry - and even perhaps - members of your own family who have experienced the great highs of triumph and those who know the desolation of disaster.

Kipling, who completed The Jungle Book in 1892 and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907, wrote the poem for his son John in 1909.
I have always wondered what he actually meant when he wrote about "those two imposters" - triumph and disaster. My Oxford Concise Dictionary defines an imposter as "a person who assumes a false character or pretends to be someone else".

So, does this mean that a personal triumph is not really a triumph? Is a disaster not really a disaster?

Inspired by exploits and example

Should we not celebrate personal triumphs (in our careers and our personal lives) and feel sorrow for the disasters that may befall us?
Kipling's poem was inspired by the exploits and example of Dr. Leander Starr Jameson, leader of the failed Jameson Raid of 1895 (against the Transvaal Republic to overthrow the Boer Government).

Had the raid succeeded, the British Government would probably have turned a blind eye to its illegality. Jameson was out of contact, under resourced and isolated. Impetuously, he launched the long planned raid without the order to proceed. Perhaps because it failed, Jameson and his fellow officers were duly arrested and tried in London for invading a 'friendly state'.

A hero, a rascal and a rogue

According to Kipling, the poem was written in celebration of the many personal qualities Jameson displayed in overcoming the difficulties caused by the botched raid. Any study of Jameson's life quickly confirms that the poem was indeed about the man. Jameson, who has been variously described as a hero, a rascal and a rogue, took personal responsibility for the failed venture - refusing to implicate others, some of whom were at the very highest level in Government.

Jameson was (in short order) found guilty, imprisoned, released because of severe ill-health and then pardoned. He led a very successful life following this personal disaster, receiving many honours in later years. For example, he served as Prime Minister of the Cape Colony from 1904 to 1908. In 1907, he was made a Privy Counsellor and, in 1911, he was made a Baronet.

So how should we deal with triumphs and disasters in our own lives?

I have had a fair few of them myself, so here are ten tips to start you off but, as with everything, feel free to add your own:

Ten Tips

  1. Be prepared for both triumphs and disasters
  2. Anticipate that bad things and good things can happen more than once and, on occasions, both far apart and close together
  3. Be prepared by checking out Kipling's poem - particularly verses one, two and four. I am not a gambling man, so I prefer to see verse three of 'If' as a metaphor rather than an instruction
  4. See each triumph and disaster as a moment in time, and then move on in your life
  5. Enjoy the triumphs, but remember to ponder and learn from the disasters
  6. Resist letting a particular triumph or disaster label you or define your life - don't be the one who is known for just that one incident or experience (whether positive or negative)
  7. Take the first step in getting closer to more of the people who are important in your life
  8. Specifically make friends with your managers, your customers and the key decision makers at your place of work. Jameson took time to make friends with powerful people
  9. Make sure your managers and customers know that you are on their side - they will hopefully then be on your side during the good times and the bad times. Again this was Jameson's experience
  10. Finally, strive to always see your successes and failures as just parts of a rich pattern of life experiences that are continually refining you. Experiences that are making you a better person, a better employee, a better family member

People who seem to live a charmed life

Maybe, like me, you have met people who seem to live a charmed life. Only good things happen to them. Maybe you also know people who feel that their lives have been stricken for all time, by tragedy, by ill health and by pain - Leander Starr Jameson experienced all these things.

In conclusion - I hope we may all come to understand, and that we will help others to understand, that triumphs and disasters really are imposters if we let them persuade us that our lives are blessed or cursed. Rather, I hope that we can see our lives as a journey and on our travels we can take a moment to (1) reflect on our progress and (2) be a blessing to others.

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Rudyard Kipling (portrait)
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son.