Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8

There is a Japanese proverb: “Fall down seven times, get up eight” (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.

“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.

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

Some of the darumas in my office – including a drawing by my son – and the back of the daruma t-shirt with the seven fallen darumas and the standing tall at the top!

Of course, there is a clear connection of these two Japanese sayings with daruma dolls. Plus, I can’t have a blog post about goals and not mention darumas!

Daruma dolls in Japan are intended to be a visual representation of a goal – and a reminder of the perseverance we need to have 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. “Fall down seven times, get up eight!” When you ultimately achieve your goal, you can fill in the right eye of the daruma.

Only a few months ago did I realize that the daruma t-shirts that I’d bought for myself and my kids after the Japan Study Trip 2018 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 last year 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

I have been reflecting on these sayings a lot over the last year – personally and professionally. Goals and perseverance are an important theme in the book I am writing with Isao Yoshino, and they also reflect the process of book writing.

As I declared almost a year ago in a blog post, I am 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 around this time – one year from starting writing. But it has been a much bigger undertaking than I anticipated, and there have been many times that we have “fallen down” with set backs and other challenges. But I – and we – continue to get back up and continue to work towards our final goal: getting a published book in your hands!

Falling down, and getting back up

Together in Nagoya, Japan – May 2019

Earlier this year, 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 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 have absorbed almost as my own memories at this point, and helping by asking questions and reframing comments from the audience, gave me another level of insights of how to present the content of the stories and lessons in a book format.

This time together also it highlighted to us both how well we have come to know each other.

Getting back up and altering the path

During this two-month writing break, I realized that I had to take 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 principal or topic. But after months of writing, of 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 “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’s and my own relationship, and so much 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 has become a framework for the book.

A partnership in reflection – hansei – and learning

Comments like what Mr. Yoshino made to me earlier this week also are why I have continued to persevere. When talking about a particularly tough time in his career, going back for more details to understand the context of his “biggest failure”, Yoshino 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.”

It is so incredibly rewarding to partner so closely together and to be of value to him. If all the book and the book process has been has been 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 is that our book will 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.

What a rewarding experience it has been to be able to help capture his memories, discover deeper insights, make connects, and  help him dig deeper into memories long forgotten — some wonderful and some painful — and to come out on 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.

Don’t toss in the towel

Concurrently, on a family-related level, I have been 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 for this fall and was hugely disappointed. He literally was tossing his towel and “tossing in” in 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 as 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.

I’ve had to give myself permission to not write as many blog posts – and instead channel my writing time to the book. I’ve posted more short LinkedIn posts to stay connected and share, though I miss writing here and look forward to getting back to at least monthly or bimonthly posts once the book writing is complete.

I cannot wait to fill in the eyes of my large daruma when we publish this book!

A big shout out to friends like Karyn Ross, Dan Markovitz, and Mark Graban, who have helped me tremendously along the way, 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.

So onward I persevere. I may not have achieved my original goal of publishing by now, but I continue to get up and move towards the goal of publication. New target date – Q2 2020!

This coming week, my goal is to write a draft of the final chapter of our book, and then to put it all together. Send me some “Ganbatte!”

Requests for help

In the early days of preparing for the book, Yoshino remarked to me that when it comes to people helping each other, 1 + 1 = 3 or 4, or how I often say it now “1 + 1 = WAY more than 2!”

As we move towards the publishing process, I will be reaching out to you to provide help and guidance on key decisions such as title and cover. I will likely be leveraging you – my readers – to weigh in on options.

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