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Never Beat the Boss at Horseshoes: Lessons Learned in the Pits

The game of horseshoes and the game of life have a lot in common. For one thing, both are a whole lot more fun when you’re winning!

The game of horseshoes is played in what is known as the pits. One particular game of horseshoes played at a company picnic some years ago planted me firmly “in the pits”—in more ways than one. But the experience also revealed five valuable lessons about winning that anyone can apply to the game of life.

Here’s what happened. Quite a commotion was going on in the horseshoe pits. It seems the boss was throwing ringer after ringer, handily besting all who dared challenge him. His smugness soon became infuriating. Several of my vanquished colleagues urged me to take him on. And take him on I did! It didn’t take long before I stood triumphant, beaming broadly, accepting the boss's begrudging congratulations. All was right with the world on that summer Saturday. I had just beaten the boss at horseshoes.

P.S.: I was fired the following Friday!

Five Life Lessons Learned in the Pits

1. Accept Responsibility
When you learn to accept 100% responsibility for the events in your life, you are well on your way to winning consistently. I'm not suggesting that you can control everything that happens in your life—that is clearly impossible. I am suggesting that you can control how your respond to events. It has been said that the greatest power we possess is the power to choose. You can choose to respond with ability. The game of life is all about making choices: if you fail to choose for yourself, be assured that someone or something will choose for you. As Booker T. Washington so eloquently observed, “The circumstances that surround a man’s life are not important. How that man responds to those circumstances is important. His response is the ultimate determining factor between success and failure.”

2. Communicate Clearly
Communication is defined as what we do to give and get understanding. Regardless of the choice of words, unless all parties involved understand what is being said, communication isn’t taking place. In fact, the words we choose are relatively unimportant. In a landmark study done in 1979 at UCLA, Dr. Albert Mehrabian found that only 7% of communication is dependent on words; 38% is voice tone and fully 55% of the intended communication is through body language. Subsequent studies by Dr. Stephen Covey and others have validated those findings. Dr. Mehrabian’s work reinforces the old saying, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” To be fluent, you must be congruent.

3. Expect the Best
I fully expected to beat the boss at horseshoes. I certainly did not expect to get fired six days later. This life lesson is a closely related to life lesson #1, “Accept Responsibility.” Although we should always expect the best outcome, we must respond with ability when the best doesn’t occur. The ancient King Croesus noted, “There’s a wheel on which the affairs of men revolve, and its mechanism is such that it prevents any man from being always fortunate.” You’re not always going to win in the game of life. A universal law, the Law of Attraction, states that the people, circumstances and events in our lives directly correspond to our dominant way of thinking. If your way of thinking is generally positive and you expect the best from all situations, you’ll find yourself winning in the game of life more often.

4. Put Things in Perspective
The world did not come to an end when I was fired. The sun rose in the sky the next day and Double-Stuffed Oreos tasted just as good. In fact, as so often happens in the face of what appears to be a calamity, it turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened. My career has gone in a new, even more positive direction, and the experience provided me with the title of my latest book. It’s no surprise that things aren't always going to go your way. Keep a positive attitude and remember Winston Churchill’s classic definition of success: “To go from failure to failure with great enthusiasm!”

5. Do It Now
There probably is no good time to get fired, to receive a frightening diagnosis, or to go bankrupt. But there is a best time to take action on any troubling event in the game of life—now! Over 20 centuries ago Rabbi Hillel asked, “If not now, when?” What a powerful life lesson and what a way to pull together the other four lessons. Place every life event in its proper perspective now; expect the best while being prepared for any outcome now; hone your communication skills now. Most importantly, start accepting that although you can’t always control what happens to you as you play the game of life, you can always control your response.

By the way, I hope you realize that I don’t really believe beating the boss at horseshoes was the reason for my fall from grace. But then again, he was pretty upset…