Never Be Defeated, Redux


Photo: vanGalenMarco

A young violin prodigy was walking down the street one day trying to decide whether or not to pursue a life in music when he came upon the most famous violin teacher in the world. Scarcely believing his luck, he stopped the great teacher and asked if he could play for him, thinking he would abandon his dream of a career in music if the great teacher told him he was wasting his time.

The greater teacher nodded silently for him to begin. So he played, beads of sweat soon appearing on his forehead, and when he finished, he was certain he’d given his finest performance.

But the great maestro only shook his head sadly and said, “You lack the fire.”

The young musician was devastated.  Nevertheless, he returned home and announced his intention to abandon the violin. Instead, he entered the world of business and turned out to have such a talent for it that in a few short years he found himself richer than he’d ever imagined possible.

Almost a decade later he found himself walking down another street in another city when he happened to spot the great teacher again. He rushed over to him. “I’m so sorry to bother you,” he said, “and I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I stopped you on the street years ago to play my violin for you, and I just want to thank you. Because of your advice, I abandoned my greatest love, the violin, painful as it was, and became a businessman and today enjoy great success, which I owe all to you. But one thing you must tell me: how did you know I didn’t have what it takes? How did you know all those years ago I lacked the fire?”

The great teacher shook his head sadly and said only, “You don’t understand. I tell everyone who plays for me they lack the fire. If you had the fire, you wouldn’t have listened.”

No matter how much others may doubt you or you may doubt yourself, never be defeated!

The preceding isn’t my original work but comes from “Telling Lies for Fun and Profit” by Lawrence Block. It’s been so helpful in lifting my spirits when I’m discouraged I wanted to post it to encourage others.

NEXT WEEKThe Real Reason Couples Decide They’re Incompatible

10 comments to Never Be Defeated, Redux

  • Annie

    I am thinking that this sort of fits with a situation that one of my 5th grade students and his parents are facing. He is despondent regarding his performances this year at our island’s wrestling matches. His coaches are saying he’s not the same as last year and his parents are concerned that he wants to quit. They’d prefer that he stay in the sport for the remainder of the season because of the character skills that one can gain from participation in sports. He enjoys practices and being on the team, but is less enthusiastic about “being on the mat” at official matches. He is a thoughtful and intelligent student far beyond his years; it is difficult for us to see his struggle with this. What do you think? When do parents “allow” their children to quit? Thanks for your thoughtful response.

    Annie: I have no ready answer. I think quitting is, in fact, sometimes appropriate: perhaps an activity no longer brings the same intrinsic pleasure it once did. Or you discover the reason you were doing it in the first place isn’t a good one (i.e., to please your parents, not yourself). Hard for me to comment on your example without knowing more details. I would say I don’t think quitting is always the wrong thing to do. You just have to make sure you’re not quitting for the wrong reasons.


  • David Hicks

    Thank you for this wonderful posting, Alex. “No matter how much others may doubt you or you may doubt yourself, never be defeated,” is indeed a wonderful message.

    I feel sad though that the “young virtuoso” abandoned the violin totally. Buddhism may have taught him the middle path. Somewhere between being a red-hot classical concert violinist & discarding his instrument completely as he did: just plain playing for his own pleasure & the pleasure of friends & family.

    I posted your posting on a pro-Palestinian website (with full accreditation of course) in the context of never giving in—to the brutal Zionist occupation—& it has received some positive critical acclaim!

    Thank you again, Alex.

  • […] Never Be Defeated, Redux « Happiness in this World. […]

  • When I began writing in my fractured, somewhat formal Indian English, a friend had texted me—”Your creativity has reached a plateau, now you have to stop writing and get out of this cocoon…pls pls pls read contemporary writers, communicate with articulate people and polish your knife…” These were the exact words because I still have the message in my saved folder.

    A few years of get-down-and-get-on-with-it practice exercises on IWW worked their worth. I still write somewhat formal Indian English but hey sometimes I get accepted.

    A few months back I forwarded the old message to the same person when he congratulated me.

  • SVR

    Alex, like you said in your response to the first comment, the challenge lies in understanding when the battle must be fought notwithstanding the barriers and when its wiser to withdraw.

    Inevitably, self-doubt, esp in face of lack of any success, will ask—am I being delusional?

  • Ellen

    This pretty much sums up how I live my life. Occasionally, quitting is the only realistic option. But usually, hard work pays off, and never giving up is the only way to go. Nothing motivates me more than being told that it can’t be done. Yes, it can! I can, and I have.

  • Lisa

    Mr. Hicks,

    What a foul way to use Alex’s good work. I’m sure he would never advocate for the signature violence of Hamas, Hizbollah and others allied with the Palestinian project.

    Just because this site advocates the Buddhist way does not mean you will find a bunch of self-loathing Jews here. Go congratulate yourself in the corner for your re-post, but don’t expect any accolades for being on the side of violence here.

  • I think it is interesting that most commenters here are taking Alex’s post to mean that one must not quit. I, on the other hand, take it to say that if one has the fire to do something, they will burn for it. If you can legitimately allow yourself to quit something without pining for it and moping about it, it is perhaps okay to do it.

    In fact that is a test I use on myself sometimes: I run a thought experiment where I imagine that I am giving up on an idea or a dream that I have had for a while and try to assess how I feel about it. If I feel dismayed and angry and lost, I know I should not quit, otherwise I know that I will be fine even if I do quit.

    Whether the violinist should not have quit playing, whether the Gazans should not quit fighting for a separate state (by using violence or not) and whether each of us should not quit pursuing our deeply loved goals, are questions that only the people in question can answer depending on how important these goals are to them, or how much fire do they have in their bellies for their dreams.

  • Cecilia

    So nice that I happened to read this when I was feeling a bit down. Brightened me up a little. 🙂

  • mjamaa

    I feel awake after reading all these things. It inspires me a lot. Thanks so much!

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