The Thought for the Day – Heywood Broun

The tragedy of life is not that man loses, but that he almost wins. – Heywood Broun


Heywood Broun (1888-1939) was an American journalist. Broun started out as a sportswriter, but was also a drama critic, editor and columnist. Broun later helped found the American Newspaper Guild, now the News Guild, the union representing newspaper reporters. This quote is sometimes attributed to his son Heywood Hale Broun, but we found it in a book about the father. The quote was inspired the 1921 boxing match between Georges Carpentier and Jack Dempsey, where Carpentier got off the punch of a lifetime that merely staggered, but did not defeat, Dempsey. It also broke his hand and Broun noted how Carpentier’s best was not enough.

One’s best not being enough is both true and false. On the one hand, no one aims for the runner-up spot. On the other hand, what else is there but your very best? Nothing, and what your very best gets you is sometimes out of your control.

…but that he almost wins.

Is almost winning really a tragedy? Like so many other things in life, there is not one concrete answer and we are not going to bog ourselves down by defining tragedy, the contextual definition found here sufficing.

Almost winning certainly can seem like a tragedy. The athlete who crosses the finish line a heartbeat behind the winner. The artist who finds a deserved award going against him. A worker who is second in line for a promotion. This is especially true if someone is looking back on something less than their very best effort.  

However, is it possible for anything less than your very best to be a tragedy? Of course not. Your very best is never anything less than a complete and utter triumph, the results ancillary and often –  perhaps usually – affected by circumstances outside of your control.

Did you accomplish everything you set out to do? Was every goal reached? Probably not. No one accomplishes everything every time out and not reaching a goal is one of life’s great lessons. It’s the way the world is built.

But failure is merely life issuing you a certificate saying you tried to surpass yourself and, besides, it exists only in relation to success. Forget this relationship and neither exists. If we are following our hearts and trusting our instincts our very best will follow, as will the life we were meant to live, life’s great prize.

The Thought for the Day runs regularly. Quotes are from Gaylon’s private stock.

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