From Tragedy to Triumph: 100 Amazing and Inspiring Comebacks is a new book by John F. Groom, of Positive Press renown, and David Noon. The tag line is, “How some of the world’s most successful people came back from disaster…and how you can too.!
I’m not particularly drawn to what I’m going to call here, formulaic writing, though its success in the public marketplace attests to a widespread approval of it; witness the best selling and ever evolving Chicken Soup series. So maybe its just a bit of jealousy from this aspiring writer that initially had me setting the book down after I opened it and discovered the format. Or maybe it was the overwhelm that easily comes to me during the holiday season and the knowledge that I had agreed to review the book and…. You know how excuses come easily.
Perhaps that’s the obvious takeaway from this new book exploring human resilience: excuses come easily. Triumph over tragedy however, comes only through some almost ethereal like persistence and belief in one’s self, from luck and relationships, and it arises out of the requisite tragedy itself in some way. From Tragedy to Triumph does its best to take the ‘ethereal’ out of that often elusive quality of persistence, and it does so without offering a model of resiliency for us to mentally fall back upon.
The book is primarily descriptive, and only secondarily prescriptive; and then so only based upon the testament of 100 biographies. I guess that’s enough, for starters.
That descriptive approach is the book’s strength however. It is essentially composed of two-page biographical reviews of 100 people, ranging from the living to the historical, from Stephen Hawking to the slave freeing Harriet Tubman, from the now famous J. K. Rowling to many people previously unknown to me; all of them, despite fame coming only to some, extraordinary people because they found something inside to live true to. The other inclusive commonality running through their life stories is at least one seriously low point, a life tragedy for some and for others a life of extreme adverse circumstance, when the excuses to give up might have come easy to them; and they chose not to go there.
They persisted. And out of their persistence came a better world for them, and in many cases, Albert Einstein for example, we are the beneficiaries as well. The book, I confess, despite it’s too narrow for me ‘bounce back’ conceptualization of resilience, is growing on me. It is an inspiring read and a good reference for those of us who love history and biography and are curious about the arena of human flourishing.
The Conclusion of the book is an exploration into various dynamics and shared particulars among these 100 who triumphed. It turns out for example, that “physical location matters” (geographical moves were often part of the new story), but that formal educational success was not a commonality.
“The things most commonly cited for success—good health, education, appearance, and timing—don’t seem to be of overwhelming importance in making a great comeback, although they tend to be very important in achieving a high degree of conventional success. What matters is that someone believes, for whatever reason, that change is possible. A belief in change requires, perhaps more than anything else, a sense of imagination: you have to believe that life can be something other than what it appears at the moment.”
“They rarely saw themselves as victims. Instead, they focused on one of two great skills: creativity or the ability to connect to others.” (Now there’s another book for the series!)
It is in numerous nuggets such as this that the book reveals its practical applications, beyond serving as inspiration. We all find ourselves in need of strategy and inspiration at times, and studying the lives of those who have found their way through the extremes of adversity is a worthwhile and enlightening way to rediscover either. The book leaves me feeling, “If they can do it, I can too!”
My congratulations to John Groom and David Noon, for this contribution to human resilience. Now I want to read Groom’s Living Sanely in an Insane World. I’ve been trying to figure this out for more than a few days now.