Nathan Tanner

What Canada’s Prime Minister can teach you about overcoming setbacks

In a recent meeting, an executive was asked what he thought about a negative article written about the company. After answering the question head on, he shared a story about Justin Trudeau, Canada’s recently elected Prime Minister.

Just a few years into his political career, Trudeau wanted to prove to the world he was more than just a spoiled son of Canadian royalty. He turned a charity boxing match into a political opportunity, challenging Patrick Brazeau, a senator from the opposing party who had a black belt in karate.

Many Canadians thought Trudeau was crazy and the first round of the fight was brutal. But he and his trainer had taken an unconventional training strategy. Much like Rocky’s approach to fighting Clubber Lang, Trudeau’s strategy was to tire out his opponent. If he could just outlast Brazeau, if he could just extend the fight and stay on his feet, Tradeau was confident he could win.

The fight started and Brazeau’s punches came with strength and force. A former amateur boxer, Trudeau had been in fights before, but he had never been hit with this kind of power. While he saw stars in some moments, he managed to stay upright. He stuck to the plan, and as Brazeau ran out of steam, Trudeau became the aggressor, pounding his opponent into submission. The fight lasted only a few rounds before the referee stepped in to end it.

Trudeau eloquently summarized his lessons from the fight:

“People think that boxing is all about how hard you can hit your opponent. It’s not. Boxing is about how hard a hit you can take and keep going. That ultimately is much more the measure of a person– than someone who says, “Oh, I’ve never been knocked down,” or, “I’ve never been punched in the face.”

Like Trudeau, we all face setbacks. These blows come in a variety of forms. Some are unforeseen, like a sucker punch to the gut, while others are direct shots to the face. Ironically, many of the punches we take come from people who once praised our name.

Anyone who has ever tried to innovate, or sought to think differently, or questioned the status quo, has inevitably taken a lot of punches. This comes with the territory. If you step into the ring, you’re going to get hit. And with the rise of technology and social media, it’s only become easier to attack others from a safe, comfortable distance.

But there is nothing noble or impressive about criticizing others from the sidelines. Anyone can do that. As Gordon B. Hinckley frequently said, “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.” The hard work, the difficult work, is actually having the courage to make yourself vulnerable and step into the ring.

So if you get knocked down and face setbacks as you pursue a new opportunity, know that you’re in good company. You’re not alone. The great ones have all taken their fair share of punches. And as we learn from Trudeau, the true measure of a person is not how hard you can hit, but how hard of a hit you can take and keep going.