Like many children around the world, I was raised and nurtured with nursery rhymes. There is one rhyme that has stayed with me all my life. It is a story of risk, failure and perseverance. It’s the story of Humpty Dumpty, the anthropomorphic egg who tried to defy the odds and met with interesting results.
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall.
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men,
Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.
The key word to focus on is the very last word of the rhyme: again. Some may say this means Humpty took a tumble and could not return to the wall anything but scrambled. To me, ‘again’ confirms that this was not the first time that Humpty had fallen. Humpty was a serial risk-taker. He was bold, fearless, and entrepreneurial. Humpty had attempted to pursue this personal goal before and somehow fell short. But, this egg was not going to allow failure to define it. Climbing a wall is moving beyond where you are by overcoming adversity and challenging conventional wisdom.
There are many Americans who are facing difficult times these days. Many Americans have lost their jobs and their homes, and have taken a huge blow to their lifestyles. As we contemplate the severity of the present and seek to overcome the uncertainty of the future, I recall my favorite rhyme, the story of Humpty. This is a story of one egg’s journey of endurance and the willingness to keep trying. It speaks of the courage to seek challenges, to gratefully accept help when needed and to persevere when there is no apparent reason to do so. It’s also a reminder that even when you do everything right—remain loyal to your employer, invest your money in ‘fool-proof’ funds, pursue the American dream—you may fall. But when we fall, we should strive to get back up and not allow setbacks to define who you are.
None of us are perfect. At times, we overreach as we try to make life better for ourselves and our families. Sometimes, we act based on fear. At times, our overconfidence leads the way when it should be tempered. All of these imperfections lead to problems, which we are dealing with today. And yet, there is a little Humpty Dumpty in all of us. We have fallen, yes. We have been broken, certainly. But somewhere deep inside we still have our eye on that wall and are ready to scale it, cracks and all, as insurmountable as it may seem.
I am particularly impressed with Humpty’s support group, his friends—all the king’s horses and all the king’s men. They are the ultimate safety net for Humpty. We have all climbed that wall and have fallen but if it wasn’t for our king’s men and their horses, getting back up would have been impossible. Our friends and families give us the assurance to keep going—they help put us back together when we fall.
As America grapples with these difficult times, may our journey be blessed with good friends and may we learn much from our falls as well as from our ascents. As I celebrate my half-century of life this June, I can say with all confidence and humility that I can relate to Humpty Dumpty, his successes and setbacks along the way, and I’m the better person for those experiences.
Benjamin Ola. Akande is Dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology and chief of corporate partnerships at Webster University. Follow him on Twitter: @Benjamin_Akande