On Getting Knocked Down—and Getting Back Up Again: 10 Secrets for Success in Life

By Ken K. Gourdin

I was born nearly ten weeks early at a time when such an early birth meant that I probably wouldn’t survive.  I was also born at a time when dads weren’t allowed in the delivery room, and my dad has told me many times what the doctor told him after I got here: “It’s a boy.  Don’t expect him to survive the night.”  Well, I’m still here, and still fighting—more successfully at sometimes than at others, I’ll admit.

My early arrival means that I have Cerebral Palsy, which means my brain has a hard time telling my muscles what to do and coordinating my movement.  I was “mainstreamed” in school from day one, which was both a blessing and a curse: It was a blessing because it forced me to deal with the world on the world’s terms rather than expecting, because of my disability, that the world would deal with me on my terms.  It was a curse because some of my classmates feared what they didn’t understand, and they reacted to the source of that fear—me—by teasing, taunting, and bullying me.

For me, school was interrupted several times by surgery, trying to get better, and trying to relearn how to make my body do what I wanted it to do.  I learned how to walk several times and used every aid you can imagine to try to get around—including canes, crutches, braces, a walker, and a wheelchair.  Even though my time in school was interrupted, and even though teachers taught me at home for two long stretches while I recovered after surgery, I kept up with my classmates and graduated at the same time they did.  Even if some of them didn’t like me very much, they knew there was no way they could have survived if they’d been through what I’d been through.  To a standing ovation at graduation, I got a small scholarship taken from the senior class fund and a letter signed by 208 of my 280 classmates recognizing the positive effect the way I handled my challenges had on them.

After I graduated from high school, I did two years’ volunteer religious service in the San Diego, California area, graduated with honors from what was then Dixie College and received the college’s “Achievement of the Year” Award for meeting successfully unusual challenges while getting my education, graduated with honors from Weber State University, and graduated from law school (this time by the skin of my teeth, but I guess it still counts!) at the University of Utah.

Finding where I belong in making a living has been much harder than I thought it would be, a struggle that continues still.  I admit, at times, I don’t really want to engage the world.  The world seems too big, the task seems too hard, and I, and my ability to make any difference, feel too small.  But as my mother always told us kids when we told her we didn’t want to do something, “That’s OK, Ken.  You don’t have to want to.”  And whatever I might not want to do, the voice in my head says, “Ken, are you going to feel any better if you don’t do it?”  And as much as I hate to admit it, the answer’s “No.”

Here are a few of my secrets for success in life:

  • Even if you don’t know where to start, start somewhere.
  • If you don’t want to do it (whatever it is), are you going to feel better if you don’t?
  • Keep breathing; keep moving; keep trying.  Whatever the outcome, you’ll be better for the effort.
  • How many times you get knocked down doesn’t matter—as long as you get up once more than you get knocked down.
  • No matter how bad it might seem, ask yourself, “Could it be worse?”  Invariably, the answer’s “Yes.”
  • Remember: You don’t see things as they are, you see them as you are.
  • So much in life is about perspective: Don’t look through the wrong end of the binoculars.
  • Celebrate even the smallest victories.  Write down your successes—and how they make you feel—so you can relive them.
  • Don’t know if you’re going to make it through the day?  Pick the biggest unit of time you can handle—the next second, the next minute, the next hour—and focus on that.
  • Forgive yourself, and forgive others.  Nothing is heavier nor harder to carry than is a grudge.

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