November 12, 2023

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss…

…Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.

This is from a poem called If— by Rudyard Kipling…but it might as well have been titled “The Entrepreneur’s Credo.”

It encompasses so much of what we work for, work on, and work towards, as business owners.

And it applies to “intrapreneurs” as well (which is a concept I’ve written about before).

You can check out my take on “intrapreneurs” and “second rainmakers” at these two links.

Those are both “so 2017” (when I was new at writing these posts…I was so innocent back then). 🙂

Today I want to break down this stanza above of Kipling’s poem—not as a student of English Literature (although I could…I was an English Major in college as you might recall).

And in the P.S. I have copied and pasted the entire poem…worth your time to have a read.

I was inspired to republish this poem by Tom Ruwitch, a member of Titans Xcelerator, who I profiled last week, and who published it in his daily email.

His reason for publishing it was based on a rumor that Muhammad Ali carried it in his pocket.

I think that is reason alone to pay closer attention simply because “The Greatest” was a fan.

Another reason to study it has a broader meaning…the idea of carrying inspirational words in your pocket…or taped to your computer screen…or notes in your phone…or on plaques on your wall…or just sharing them as often as possible…is a practice worth emulating.

And Kipling’s poem is pure inspiration.

Rather than break it down like an English Major (i.e., make stuff up that the author can’t dispute because he is dead), I will dissect it from the standpoint of being a lifelong student (and occasional mentor) of direct marketers, copywriters and other entrepreneurs/intrapreneurs.

And I admit that I have taken some “poetic license” to prove my points…

Abundance over scarcity

You must have this mindset to be a successful entrepreneur…and it has little to do with how much money you have in your bank account.

It’s also at the root of Kipling’s poem.

You’ve all heard this one before and I can’t repeat it enough:

Your abundance resides in a different “bank account” called your relationship capital (which compounds exponentially, if you take very good care of it, and you don’t spend it frivolously).

And it lasts forever whether you intend it to or not.

Click here for more about “The compound interest from relationship capital”

Money is always about the past…but your relationships, resources and accumulated wisdom are assets that accompany you wherever you go in the future…and they are assets that are both portable and the most powerful you own.

When Kipling says you can risk all your winnings and lose it on “one turn of pitch-and-toss” (which in entrepreneur-speak is “a spectacular idea that was only a spectacular idea at the time”), making back those winnings again (see “Getting back on the horse” below), while not crying in your soup for decades, is what will keep you on the right path.

I’m sure you might have other interpretations.

I’d love to hear your interpretations…just email me.

Getting back on the horse

What would you do if you lost everything and had to start over?

It depends how you define “lose everything.”

If you define it like many successful entrepreneurs define it (who have lost a lot of money or time on a failed project or business), you will realize you can never “lose everything” while you are still breathing.

To this breed of entrepreneur problems are seen as simply setbacks…which then become challenges to overcome.

And then with the right perspective and toolkit (that you have developed over time), problems, setbacks and challenges turn into new opportunities very quickly.

No real failures. No real losses.

You win or you learn (nod to my friend Susan Garrett).

What’s in your toolkit?

It’s what is in everyone’s toolkit.

It’s what you take from the past that’s worth taking (see above re: relationships, resources, wisdom)—and leave everything else dead and buried in the past (nod to my Strategic Coach, Dan Sullivan).

If you do this then the world is always your oyster.

Note that the flipside is also true:

Windfall success (including gobs of money) can also be “loss of everything.”

An example of this comes from the teachings of Dan Sullivan as well, the top coach for entrepreneurs in the world (and this is my take, based on the premise above of “getting back on the horse”):

When an entrepreneur has a successful exit from his or her company…and begins spending their millions instead of figuring out “what’s next” (within 6 months maximum), all the money in the world won’t buy personal fulfillment and joy. They must get back on the horse…any horse…to make it mean something.

Sharing your hero’s journey…or keep it to yourself?

The line in Kipling’s poem above that instructs us to, “…never breathe a word about our loss” seems incongruent with most of the stories we hear from entrepreneurial (specifically marketing) personalities in our world.

Many wear their failures like a badge of honor, talk about them incessantly, and they want you to know all about their “loss” on a regular basis and what they have overcome to be who they are today.

It is not only a story they tell occasionally…they repeat it early and often, and use it as a tool in a very public way.

Not a bad thing…but it is a “thing.”

I discussed this in detail in “Friends with benefits” this way:

I learned that I am boring because I don’t have an origin story with trials and tribulations (i.e., a hero’s journey) …no bankruptcies, divorce, drug addiction, getting ripped off by a partner, living in my car or in squalor before I got my big break…just a middle-class kid from the suburbs with a solid work ethic and a big heart.

At least that’s what people tell me.

But I also learned I don’t need to apologize for not having a compelling origin story…but I often wonder if it might be “easier” if I had more hardship in my life for the sake of being a more interesting public speaker like many who take the stage on a regular basis.

Harder life=more compelling speaker? 🙂

Some do it with complete sincerity to show what they had to endure to get where they are today–and that’s certainly one way to handle the ups and downs of a career.

But Kipling’s take is different…and I find it refreshing.

He seems to be calling out those who use their rags to riches (to rags to riches, to rags to riches, etc.) stories as a crutch rather than a useful tool to teach what they have learned from those bumps in the road.

And…to keep it to themselves rather than sharing it publicly.

Kipling’s take is not a “rule of thumb” in reference to talking about your sordid past (i.e., your losses) to prove yourself in the present (and future).

He simply offers a different way to look at it which is not only refreshing but also profound…and it forces us to go beyond the superficiality of our stories and use the learnings internally rather than externally.

For copywriters reading this, you are probably thinking it’s hogwash…because you live by “story” in your copy.

And you are correct.

But I like thinking about this anyway, even as a point-counterpoint.

To “never breathe a word about your loss” doesn’t mean you hide your story out of embarrassment (according to Kipling–or that’s how I read it).

I think he is saying to never speak of your loss because not complaining about the adversity you’ve endured shows strength of character and true humility.

Maybe there’s a middle ground…speak your story of adversity once in a while but don’t drone on about it every chance you get.

My fear around sharing any hero’s journey publically, when it is to prove to yourself that you can overcome anything, is that it can fall apart (internally) when you come against a “superior hero’s journey.”

That is, one that is a lot worse than yours by any standard and because it reached lower into the depths of despair, it also resulted in something “better” than yours too (i.e., the superior journey is one that comes from less and achieved more).

The fear is that it could become a needless competition (if you allow for it) because you rely so heavily on your journey for validation.

I only know about this because I’ve seen it play out numerous times.

It’s what I call the “I’ve overcome so much more than you syndrome.”

Or maybe I’m just jealous.

I can’t compete because my journey is way too boring.

Poor me. 🙁

I even feel guilty for not being able to compete…I can’t even talk about some minor jail time I served but of course, it’s still early. 🙂

In light of Kipling’s notion of being doubted, hated, and dealing with the “imposters” of Triumph and Disaster at the same time (now you need to read the P.S.!), I feel guilty when I write about my near death experience as part of my “loss” (bankruptcy or jail looks better than THAT).

Because in the world of Kipling’s “If–“, sharing these things with others can be interpreted as showing less strength of character and a lack of humility.

Or as a crutch to receive sympathy.

And you can accept all of what I shared today, some of it, or none of it.

But no one can argue that leading with value and humility aren’t good things to lead with…and close with.

Based on that, I will close with…



P.S. Below is the complete Kipling poem, “If–“

I could have written about it some more (beyond the part I focused on)—but since I didn’t have an assignment from an English Professor, I considered that optional.

Once a slacker English Major, always a slacker English Major. 🙂

But if any of you have any additional thoughts, I’d love to hear from you.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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