There is a Japanese proverb: “Fall down 7 times, get up 8” (Nana korobi ya oki).
While we are sure to face failure along the way to our goal, we must continue to get up and keep trying. It may take a long time to eventually achieve our goal, but if we are patient, resilient, and persistent to keep trying, we ultimately will get there.
That’s why it’s vital to get up every time we fall down – that’s the Fall down 7 times get up 8 meaning. In Japanese we say ‘Nana korobi ya oki.’
“Do your best” or Gambatte!
There is a related Japanese saying, “Don’t give up” or “Do your best”, coming from various forms of the verb gambaru (頑張る). This concept represents the tenacity we must have to stick with a task or keep working towards a goal until it is achieved. The command form of the verb, gambatte, is used often in daily language to encourage others to “do your best” or “keep going” at work, in sporting events, or during a test. That is essentially the gambatte definition.
So, how do you use gambatte?
What is the gambatte meaning?
Gambatte is about trying hard and doing our best, even if we don’t always win. Through our spirit of gambaru, we can continue to get up and keep trying.
When I lived in Japan, I heard this phrase often, and in fact, it has become one of the sayings still incorporated into my family’s daily sayings.
(Other Japanese phrases I still use often even back in the U.S. include: kiotskete or “be careful / watch out!!!”, onegaishimasu or “please / excuse me”, and wakarimasu “I understand”.)
Connection to darumas
Of course, there is a clear connection between these two Japanese sayings and daruma dolls. Plus, I can’t have a blog post about goals and not mention darumas!
What do daruma dolls symbolize? And why are daruma dolls good luck?
Daruma dolls in Japan are intended to be a visual representation of a goal – and a reminder of the perseverance we need to achieve it. They are hollow papier-mâché figures made in various sizes, modeled after the founder of Zen Buddhism.
When you have a goal, you fill in the left eye of the daruma. The doll is weighted at the bottom so that when it is knocked over, it rights itself to its standing position. And so we discover the “Fall down 7 times, get up 8” origin. When you ultimately achieve your goal, you can fill in the right eye of the daruma.
When I first discovered daruma dolls, I didn’t actually realize their connection with the proverb ‘Fall down 7 times, get up 8.’ And then I went to Japan in 2018, and I bought some t-shirts for my kids. This was after the Japan Study Trip 2018. The shirts had a series of eight darumas on the back: seven smaller ones fallen over – and a final eighth standing proud. My eight-year-old was wearing his daruma t-shirt in the post I did in 2018 about “Kata in the Kitchen”.
For those of you who don’t know my obsession with darumas, you do now. I hand out little ones at nearly all of my workshops and events – all personally imported from Japan!
A personal story of perseverance – in book writing
Ever since I heard the saying, it’s been a personal motto of mine. Particularly when I was writing my book Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn, and during my client work and my Accelerator, I reflect on these sayings (Fall down 7 times get up 8, and others) a lot. Goals and perseverance are important themes in the book I wrote with Isao Yoshino, and they also reflect the process of book writing.
In 2018, I announced in a blog post, that I was writing a book with Isao Yoshino to capture his reflections from over 40 years working at Toyota, and our shared learning from our conversations spanning nearly five years. It was inspired by our early conversations and writing here on this blog.
You can click here to get a PDF of the top 10 leadership lessons that I learned from Mr. Yoshino that inspired the idea to write a book.
My initial goal was that the book would be published and in your hands one year from starting writing. But it was a much bigger undertaking than I anticipated, and there were many times when we “fell down” with setbacks and other challenges. But I – and we – continued to get back up and continued to work towards our final goal: getting a published book in your hands!
Today I officially began the writing process of the book Isao Yoshino and I are co-authoring. It was fitting to make our book goal official by filling in the eye of one of my larger daruma dolls. Lots of work ahead! Target completion – fall 2019! pic.twitter.com/1dCsoJMlwX
— Katie Anderson (@kbjanderson) October 16, 2018
Falling down, and getting back up
In early 2019, I had to take a break from writing. My professional travel and client schedule was stacked for about two months and I was feeling stuck in how the writing was going. I had fallen down and needed a chance to reset.
My work travel wasn’t all a break from the book – but it was a break from writing, which freed my creative energy and took away the pressure of an arbitrary publication date target.
Much of that time was spent with Mr. Yoshino – he came out to California to visit me and stay at my house, and we led two separate events in San Francisco and Chicago together. And then we were in Japan together for most of the week of my Japan Study Trip, which was amazing!
Being together in person, hearing him retell stories that I had absorbed almost as my own memories at that point, and helping by asking questions and reframing comments from the audience, gave me another level of insights into how to present the content of the stories and lessons in a book format.
This time together also highlighted to us both how well we had come to know each other.
Getting back up and altering the path
During this two-month writing break, I realized that I had to make a pivot in the structure of the book. I had originally conceived of the book as a series of “stand-alone” chapters focused on one leadership principle or topic. But after months of writing, synthesizing his stories, and trying to describe their lessons, I kept coming up against several barriers.
First, the stories were getting fragmented across chapters, which led to reader confusion and didn’t lend to the “flow” of information.
Second, my writing tone was getting away from the story-telling conversational voice that I wanted to convey. A conversational tone was the essence of Yoshino and my own relationship, and so much of what I enjoyed about our relationship and the style of writing here for this blog.
And third, finding the overarching structure for a long-form project, versus blog posts or articles, was more challenging. What was the uniting structure? I felt like I was back trying to slog through my master’s thesis!
I realized on my writing break that his story and insights would flow better if told as the unfolding of his own learning journey – in sequence in time as it unfolded for him. And through this, I discovered there are two threads of learning that he followed, which became a framework for the book.
A partnership in reflection – hansei – and learning
When talking about a particularly tough time in his career, going back for more details to understand the context of his “biggest failure”, Yoshino once said to me:
“That is the power of asking questions. You did not force me to answer. You just kept asking questions in a different way that has helped me face the facts of what we have done, what I have done, what I haven’t done.
This has been a really amazing experience for me. I appreciate that you have asked me, as this is the first time I really have been asked to think more about this time.”
Comments like that are also why I continued to persevere. They’re why I continued to Fall down 7 times, get up 8.
Often, when I think about hansei solutions, the hansei concept, and the hansei process, I’m reminded of this:
It was so incredibly rewarding to partner so closely together and to be of value to him. If all the book, and the process of writing it was, was an opportunity to support his hansei – reflection and learning – of his life, then it has been worth it. Though, of course, I hope that you get to learn from it too.
My intention was that our book would give you all a chance to learn more from Yoshino and from our shared insight from a journey of reflection together. I have had the privilege of friendship and frequent calls, discussions, and professional collaboration, and I am so happy to be able to offer you this opportunity too through the book.
And getting up the eighth time has yielded incredible results!
Never did I ever expect to be so rewarded in so many wonderful ways.
To date, Learning to Lead, Leading to Learn: Lessons From Toyota Leader Isao Yoshino on a Lifetime of Continuous Learning has had hundreds of 5-star reviews on Amazon and is an award-winning international #1 Bestseller in multiple categories on Amazon. Plus, it won an International Impact Book Award, and was a 2022 finalist for the Eric Hoffer award.
More than all of this, though, what a rewarding experience it has been to be able to help capture Isao Yoshino’s memories, discover deeper insights, make connections, and help him dig deeper into memories long forgotten — some wonderful and some painful — and to come out on the other side with deeper insights to then share with you.
Our book is a representation of not just Yoshino’s story and lessons, but of the deeper learning that comes out of hansei together – of questions asked with the intention of helping someone else learn for themself more deeply about their past.
I’ve been sitting for 8 hours writing and editing away. Nearly complete with a first full draft. Just need to write the last chapter now … and then LOTS of editing! My daruma keeps me focused. Little gold one is for finishing my writing. Big one is for publishing the book! pic.twitter.com/goMy6Aa6Va
— Katie Anderson (@kbjanderson) October 29, 2019
Don’t toss in the towel
Here’s a fall down 7 times, get up 8 summary for life: Concurrently, on a family-related level, I was working with my 8-year-old son to develop the grit and perseverance it takes to achieve goals. He didn’t make the competitive swim team in the fall of 2019, and was hugely disappointed. He literally was tossing his towel and “tossing in” the towel.
But sharing these concepts of “Fall down eight times, get up eight” and helping him see how he could move towards his goal step-by-step has helped. He was excited to see the back of his daruma t-shirt representing this same concept.
Onward towards the goal!
So, remember, goals are not easy to achieve. It takes perseverance, tenacity, and willingness to get up when you fall down and perhaps try a different way to get there. It’s the learning that happens when we fall down that makes us better – and stronger. And that’s, ultimately, how we begin to fall down 7 times, get up 8.
I couldn’t wait to fill in the eyes of my large daruma when we published this book! And how wonderful it felt when I did!
A big shout out to friends like Karyn Ross, Dan Markovitz, and Mark Graban, who helped me tremendously along the way in writing my book, especially when I’ve “fallen”, and to all of you on social media and in-person who have given me a little “Gambatte!” spirit. Your words and support have helped me get up and stay the course.
The Leading to Learn Accelerator
A big part of the Leading to Learn Accelerator and my custom work with clients is about imbuing the spirit of ‘fall down 7 times, get up 8’. People walk away feeling more confident. Available as a stand-alone course, or as the occasional community cohort, you can bring it into your organization and build confidence and more intention in your people, too.