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Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Sometimes You Win…Sometimes You Learn

Today—I’m posting a guest blog from my long-time mentor, Dr. John C. Maxwell. I worked with John for over twenty years, beginning in 1983, as a recent college grad. One of the traits John modeled best for our young team was a “growth mindset.” Enjoy this thought from his new book, Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn.

Awhile back, a video on YouTube went viral. You might remember it: A homeless man stands at a freeway exit, sign in hand, hoping to receive money from passersby. A driver stops and says, “Hey, I’m going to make you work for your dollar. Say something with that great radio voice.”

The homeless man, wearing an army fatigue jacket, his hair wild and uncut, responds by launching into a well-practiced spiel with a magnificent voice built for radio.


The man became famous overnight. It was a feel-good story that people connected with—homeless man with a talent gets a break. But the story has a lot more to it than that.

The man known on the streets as “Radio” was named Ted Williams. He’d once been the number one DJ in Columbus, Ohio. But some bad choices, including heavy drinking and crack cocaine addiction, had caused his life to crumble away, until he was left homeless, with only a nickname to point to what might have been.

After two trips to rehab, Ted finally took responsibility for himself, his choices, and his sobriety. As a result, his life is finally turning around.

Ted’s story is extreme, but he is not alone in his avoidance of responsibility. People do that all the time, especially when they fail or make mistakes. This new generation is no different.

When we fail to take responsibility, we develop a victim mentality, we embrace an unrealistic perspective of how life works, and we give away the choice to control our lives.

However, when we take responsibility for our lives and choices . . .

1. We Take Our First Step in Learning: Growth and denial never go hand in hand.

2.  We See Things In Their Proper Perspective: The best learners are people who don’t see their losses and failures as permanent; they see them as temporary.

3.  We Stop Repeating Our Failures: The major difference between people who succeed and people who don’t isn’t failing; it’s learning from their failures so they don’t repeat them.

My new book, Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn, includes the rest of Ted’s story. I wrote it to teach people how to learn from their failures and losses.

I believe that we as leaders can help today’s young adults to grow up effectively if we teach them to take responsibility and become habitual learners. I’m excited about this new book because I believe it will provide young people with the tools to do just that.



  1. Annie Riley on September 30, 2013 at 12:06 pm

    This is a nice story that makes me feel happy. I am glad that a man who had everything was brought to a very low point in his life, being homeless, and then after wards he recieved a break and became a radio speaker. This man has understood his problems and he will probably not make the same mistakes.

    • Tim Elmore on October 1, 2013 at 2:54 pm

      Thanks for your comment Annie. It is encouraging to see someone fight through struggles and obstacles to then be able to make a difference in others’ lives.

  2. Jehú Barranco on October 6, 2013 at 9:40 am

    I agree that we need to take responsibility for our actions and stop denying the consequences, but how do we as teachers get the younger generation to accept responsibilities for their actions when they are so often handed the “free cards?” It has become the common mindset that “they’re too young to know better” and I think that is destroying the age group of 13-20. How do we change that?

    • Tim Elmore on October 7, 2013 at 10:51 am

      I believe it starts with leaders, educators, coaches, and parents who are willing to make the extra effort to teach these principles. I encourage you, as a teacher to not only implement this concept in your classroom, but share it through life-on-life mentoring with other educators. It starts with us, and by providing opportunities for our students to learn and handle responsibility, we make progress with each student who is impacted by our leadership. Thanks so much for your thoughts.

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Sometimes You Win…Sometimes You Learn