by Henrylito D. Tacio
“I spent my childhood in Cebu where my father owned a chain of movie houses, including the first air-conditioned one outside Manila,” bared the 81-year-old John Gokongwei, Jr. in a speech delivered before an ad congress in November last year. “I was the eldest of six children and lived in a big house in Cebu’s Forbes Park.”A chauffeur drove this son of a wealthy businessman to school everyday as he went to top-notch San Carlos University. “I topped my classes and had many friends,” he recalled. “I would bring them to watch movies for free at my father’s movie houses.”
Then everything changed when his father died suddenly of complications due to typhoid. He was only 13 and the family lost everything. Their big house, cars, and business were all taken by the banks.
“I felt angry at the world for taking away my father, and for taking away all that I enjoyed before,” he admitted. “When the free movies disappeared, I also lost half my friends. On the day I had to walk two miles to school for the very first time, I cried to my mother.”
His mother, a widow at 32, told him: “You should feel lucky. Some people have no shoes to walk to school. What can you do? Your father died with 10 centavos in his pocket.”
The family started from scratch all over gain. “My mother sent my siblings to China where living standards were lower. She and I stayed in Cebu to work, and we sent them money regularly. My mother sold her jewelry. When that ran out, we sold roasted peanuts in the backyard of our much-smaller home.”
When that wasn’t enough, the young John opened a small stall in a public market (‘palengke’). He chose one among several public market a few miles outside the city “because there were fewer goods available for the people there,” he said. “I woke up at five o’clock every morning for the long bicycle ride to the ‘palengke’ with my basket of goods.”
At the ‘palengke’ he had chosen, he set up a table about three feet by two feet in size. He laid out his various goods — soap, candles, and thread – and kept selling until everything was bought. Why these goods? Because these were hard times and this was a poor place, so people wanted and needed the basics — soap to keep them clean, candles to light the night, and thread to sew their clothes.”
Being young, at age 15, had its advantages. “I did not tire as easily, and I moved more quickly. I was also more aggressive. After each day, I would make about 20 pesos in profit! There was enough to feed my siblings and still enough to pour back into the business. The pesos I made in the ‘palengke’ were the pesos that went into building the business I have today.”
“The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were not limitations to overcome,” said Helen Keller, who was not only deaf but blind as well. “The hilltop would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.”
Some of the world’s most famous personalities have limitations to conquer before they hit the big time! American basketball superstar Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. James Whistler, one of America’s painters, was expelled from West Point for failing chemistry.
In 1905, the University of Bern turned down a doctoral dissertation as being irrelevant and fanciful. The young physics student who wrote the dissertation was Albert Einstein, who was disappointed but not defeated.Sir Winston Churchill suffered financial ruin more than once while his political career was seemingly aborted on several occasions. Perhaps it was Churchill’s numerous failures that led him to define success as “going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
The life of Harry S Truman, before he became the president of the United States, was full of setbacks. He and his father both suffered bankruptcy. West Point rejected his application. In fact, he experienced so many failures as a young man that he once wrote to his sweetheart, Bess, “I can’t possibly lose forever.” He was his party’s fourth choice for senator. He was the underdog in every election he fought. He was so poor that even after he was elected senator, he was forced to use a public health dentist and to sleep occasionally in his car while on the campaign trail.
Before they became well-known authors, they have to beg publishers to print their books. Dr. Seuss’s first children book, ‘And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street, was rejected by 27 publishers. William Kennedy had written several manuscripts, all of them turned down by numerous publishers, before his “sudden success” with his novel ‘Ironweed,’ which was rejected by 13 publishers before it was finally accepted for publication.
In 1902, the poetry editor of the ‘Atlantic Monthly’ returned the poems of a 28-year-old poet with the following note: “Our magazine has no room for your vigorous verse.” The poet was Robert Frost. Earlier, in 1889, Rudyard Kipling got this rejection letter from the ‘San Francisco Examiner’: “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”
Alex Haley got a rejection letter once a week for four years as a budding writer. Later in his career, he was ready to give up on the book ‘Roots’ and himself. After nine years on the project, he felt inadequate to the task and was ready to throw himself off a freighter in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
As Alex was standing at the back of the freighter, looking at the wake and preparing to throw himself into the ocean, he heard the voices of all his ancestors saying, “You go do what you got to do because they are all up there watching. Don’t give up. You can do it. We’re counting on you!” In the subsequent weeks, the final draft of ‘Roots’ poured out of him – and the rest was history.
An unknown poet says it well: “When things go wrong as they sometimes will, when the road you’re trudging seems all uphill, when the funds are low and the debts are high, and you want to smile, but you have to sigh;
“When care is pressing you down a bit, rest if you must, but don’t you quit. Life is queer with its twists and turns, as every one of us sometimes learns, and many a failure turns about when he might have won had he stuck it out.
“Don’t give up though the pace seems slow – you may succeed with another blow. Success is failure turned inside out – the silver tint of the clouds of doubt, and you never can tell just how close you are, it may be near when it seems so far.
“So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit – it’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.”
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