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5 Lessons From John Rambo: How To Get Back On Top After A Defeat

Every negative situation contains the possibility for something positive, an opportunity. It is how you look at it that matters. Your lack of resources can be an advantage, forcing you to be more inventive with the little time that you have. Losing a battle can allow you to frame yourself as the sympathetic underdog. Do not let fears make you wait for a better moment or become conservative. If there are circumstances you cannot control, make the best of them. It is the ultimate alchemy to transform all such negatives into advantages and power.
-Robert Greene, The 50th Law

Each of us has journeyed into the pain cave:  Hurt by a failed relationship.  Cut from a team.  Devastated by a downturn in the economy or failed business venture.

Almost every winner I know was, at one time, a loser.  The trick is to not stay a loser.  It is not a trick at all, though.  Rather, resiliency is a skill - perhaps the most important tool we humans possess.  

What separates those who rise from failure versus others who are consumed by defeat?

But this begs the question:  why are some resilient and others overwhelmed by adversity?  What separates those who rise from failure versus others who are consumed by defeat?

Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.  - John Wooden

Following the Vietnam war, John Rambo found himself alone, depressed, and wandering the countryside with little more than a sleeping bag on his back.  Then things got worse.  Harassed and jailed by local police, Rambo broke out and fled to the woods.  

Rambo's odds looked bad.  He had nothing but the clothes on his back.  The police had all the resources: manpower, maps, guns, helicopters, etc.

Rambo, of course, dominated the situation from the start.  He used adversity to his advantage.  Here's how Rambo did it, and how you can too.


Rambo's harsh environment contained the seeds of his success because he made the most of the available resources.  Able to clothe himself, find food, make a fire, and create weapons and traps, Rambo was a stunning success.  

Resources are readily available to you as well if you have the determination to look for them.  Improvise and make the most of what you have rather than bemoaning what you lack.  Watch the movie Dunkirk if you want an example of men on the brink who improvised their way to survival.  Think of your greatest triumphs; I bet they emerged from times when you had the least or were facing the greatest odds.  


Rambo was outnumbered and outgunned, so he needed to be mobile and stealthy, a hard target to find and contain.  His opponents moved slowly and openly, allowing Rambo to use his small size - a seeming disadvantage - to his benefit.  This paradigm also played out in the Revolutionary War, where the outclassed and outmanned Continental Army defeated the British with unconventional tactics.

Think: how can you "flip" your apparent weakness and turn it into strength? The answer is there if you look.

How can you 'flip' your weakness & turn it into strength? The answer is there if you look.


A deer that stays in the headlights usually becomes a dead deer.  You too should resist the urge to stand in one place, mentally or physically, when oncoming adversity strikes.  

Observe that Rambo did not move whimsically; he always had a reason.  Find a reason to move like Rambo.  If you need a boost getting started, read my Death Ground Strategy post.  


Although all seemed lost, Rambo still had a cause:  the memory of his dead war brothers.  This created enormous energy and motivation to keep going when others would have quit.

Remember your cause and feed off it when times are tough.

Remember your cause and feed off it when times are tough.  As we recently witnessed in Houston, and as observed by author Sebastian Junger in Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, “disasters create a 'community of sufferers' that allow individuals to experience an immensely reassuring connection to others.”


We all grieve.  The Stoics, however, believed in the concept of "amor fati," which means love of fate.  As Robert Greene observes, "in this philosophy every event is seen as fated to occur. When you complain and rail against circumstances, you fall out of balance with the natural state of things; you wish things were different. What you must do instead is accept the fact that all events occur for a reason, and that it is within your capacity to see this reason as positive."

The ancient Stoic philosopher Seneca wisely said, "a man is as miserable as he thinks he is."  Decide not to be miserable.  Embrace amor fati or any belief system that allows you to go forward in life in hard times or after a loss.  

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Should you ever find your business, team, or self in a proverbial dark forest, fear not.  There is magic in the forest, and it is you.

There is magic in the forest, and it is you.

For more on John Rambo's exploits, watch the 1982 film First Blood, based on David Morrell's 1972 novel of the same name.  And return to this article in hard times, or share it with a friend who is trying to endure a loss or challenge.