Making the best of a bad situation: a lesson in perseverance

by Jack Warren, host of the Top Coach podcast

In the book, Grant and Sherman, which describes the inter-woven lives and careers of Civil War generals Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, there is a story which does a good job of summing up the attitude which drove U.S. Grant. Some things are very clear about Grant. The first is that he instinctively knew when to when to drop the hammer and when to cut his losses. He also knew how to make the best of a bad situation when trying to push ahead for a particular goal.

At one point in Grant’s life, after a mediocre (pre-Civil War) military career and some unsuccessful private ventures (general store, farming, etc.), he found himself in St. Louis, cutting, splitting, and delivering firewood to support his family. One day, while out driving a wagon load of firewood and wearing his battered old navy blue military coat, he happened upon an old colleague from his Mexican-American War days. His old friend, upon recognizing Grant, said, “Great god, Grant, what are you doing?!” Grant replied, “I’m solving the problem of poverty.”

I always loved that story — and for many reasons. One being that despite the many setbacks and seeming failures in his life, Grant wasn’t about to give up. Another being that he was nearly always pretty good about making the best of the situation at hand. Instead of complaining and blaming, he pushed ahead.

In the coaching profession in particular, there is so much that is out of our control. You’re a first year assistant coach on a team that finishes poorly for the third straight year, leading to a purge of the coaching staff. You’re in the midst of a long string of great success, but the school is in dire financial straits and decides to cut your sport. Or in a classic first world problem — you lead a baseball team in a Power 5 conference. One of your catchers gets drafted, another injured, and your prized catcher recruit decides to take the pro offer. All of these situations have elements in which you have little to no control. What will your attitude be? How will you attack it? Do you have the will to push through?

Ulysses Grant was put in many positions in his life, some of which were of his own doing and some out of his control. However, he kept persevering. Finally, when Abraham Lincoln had gone through a seemingly endless string of commanders for the Army of the Potomac, he turned to U.S. Grant as sort of a last resort. Turns out that Grant was exactly what Lincoln needed. And it turns out that this was the sort of challenge that Grant needed.

What if Grant had given up? What if that load of firewood got the better of him? Opportunity often lies just around the next corner. Some of us never get the chance to find out.

Jack is available to speak to your team or organization or at your next function. He also provides individual and organizational coaching and consulting. You can get more information on these services at Jack’s professional services site,

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.