With the Indy 500 coming up this Sunday, I can’t help but think of the drama of last year’s race. Young J.R. Hildebrand had successfully negotiated 199 of the 200 laps (each 2.5 miles) and was rounding the corner to bring home the victory. When he encountered a slower car on the last turn, he went wide and crashed into the wall. Yes, he had turned left successfully 799 times but on turn 800, his dream turned into fragments. But what has impressed me over and over this year is how Hildebrand has dealt with that disappointment. He hasn’t denied what a tough break he had, but he also has said many times how grateful he was to slide across the line in second place. “After seeing guys screw up that kind of situation in sports and kind of handle that situation badly, I felt like I had no option but to stand up and be a man about it and face the music.”
Part of what made it easier was that when the car owner got to him, John Barnes gave J.R. a hug and told him he loved him. This from a man who has been trying to win the race for years.
How do you handle things when it doesn’t work out? With disappointment or what Mark Goulston calls “dys-appointment“? (“dys” = “diseased, abnormal, faulty”). Long after the pieces have been cleaned up, people will remember your reaction. Don’t you remember most of the times you think you’ve let someone down and they tell you to keep your chin up? They model for you the behavior that ennobles us all.
J.K. Rowling, who became the most financially successful author in the world, has said “Rock bottom became a solid foundation upon which I built my life.” When we’re frustrated, when a sale that we thought was in the bag doesn’t go through, when a demo turns ugly, when our vacation day goes awry, we have the opportunity to be bigger than the situation and to lead others to do the same.
On Sunday, when 24-year-old J.R. Hildebrand lines up in his #4 car, he will have already established he’s a winner.