Lessons from Humpty Dumpty

Published in: Forbes.com
Author: Benjamin Ola. Akande

As a child growing up, I was raised and nurtured with nursery rhymes, some made up by my parents, others borrowed from a long list of universal rhymes. One has stayed with me all my life: It is a story of risk, failure and perseverance, 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 is the very last one: 'again.' It implies that this wasn't the first fall for Humpty; he was a serial risk taker. In my eyes he was bold, fearless, unrelenting and entrepreneurial. Humpty obviously believed in setting stretch goals and was very familiar with the reality called failure. But, this egg refused to allow failure to define him. Failure for Humpty was just real-time feedback, an opportunity to regroup, reassess and try again until success was eventually achieved.

That attitude is a most valuable skill in today's challenging climate. The wall is a simple metaphor for the singular act of overcoming adversity. Climbing a wall is moving beyond where you are, overcoming adversity, challenging conventional wisdom, pursuing goals that are not easily achievable and refusing to give up in that pursuit.

There are many people the world over who now find themselves faced with the greatest challenge of their lives. They have lost jobs, homes, life savings and are gradually losing confidence. They are down because they have fallen. As we contemplate the severity and hopelessness of the present and seek to overcome the uncertainty of the future, I believe it's helpful to invoke the story of Humpty, a journey of endurance and the willingness to keep trying. The lesson behind a childish rhyme 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 a 'foolproof' fund, pursue the American Dream--you may fall and fall again. Remember, when we fall we should strive to get back up and not allow setbacks to define who we are.

No one is perfect. At times, we make faulty judgments. Perhaps we overreach as we try to make life better for our families. Sometimes, we act based on fear versus hope. At other times, our overconfidence leads the way when it should be tempered. Occasionally, our desire to keep pace with our peers leads us down a slippery slope. All of these imperfections speak to the story of Humpty and the resolve to scale the wall of obstacles. There is a little Humpty Dumpty in all of us. We have fallen, yes. We have been broken, certainly. But somewhere deep inside–behind the doom, beyond the gloom–we still have our eye on that wall and are ready to successfully climb it, cracks and all, as insurmountable as it may seem.

In closing, I am particularly impressed with Humpty's support group: his friends, all the king's horses and all the king's men. They provided the ultimate safety net. We have all climbed that wall and have fallen many times, but if it weren't for our 'king's horses and men,' getting back up would have been impossible. They gave us the endurance to keep on keeping on. These are the kind of friends we all need, especially these days.

As we grapple with these difficult financial times, may our journey be blessed with good friends and may we learn as much from our falls as we do from our ascents.

Benjamin Ola. Akande, Professor of Economics, Dean, School of Business & Technology, Webster University.