“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” – Robert the Bruce
Legend has it that Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, rallied his troops to fight again in 1314 with cries of, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” How much truth is in the legend perhaps depends on how much you believe in the Loch Ness monster, but irrespective of historical accuracy, the story of Robert the Bruce and the inspiration behind his words is one that has inspired many more to keep on trying.
Robert the Bruce and the Spider
King Robert I (Robert the Bruce) was crowned King of Scotland in 1306 and he was determined to fight for Scotland’s freedom from England. However, after being defeated in battle, he was on the run and forced into hiding. His hideout was a cave, and as weeks turned into months, life in such harsh conditions saw him fall deeper and deeper into despair. At his lowest point, Robert the Bruce had all but given up on his beloved Scotland, resigning himself to the need to flee overseas to survive. It was then that he caught sight of a spider determinedly trying to spin a web at the cave entrance. The spider was swinging on a single strand from one side of the entrance to the other in an attempt to begin the web, but time after time failed to make the connection – only to try again.
Robert watched as the spider made six attempts, failing each time, and he saw a connection between the spider’s efforts and his own. Six times he’d battled the English, and six times he’d failed to win Scotland’s independence. Mesmerised by the tiny spider’s determination, he told himself that if the spider tried again and succeeded on its seventh attempt, he too would try again to defeat the English a seventh time, but if the spider failed, he would give up his fight. The spider tried again… and succeeded.
Robert the Bruce fought on, finally defeating the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 – rallying his men with cries of, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”
Lessons from Legends
The story of Robert the Bruce and the spider is a legendary tale that’s told around the world, but, as with all legends, it’s fair to say that any truth behind the story will never be known for certain. However, the message in the tale can be truly inspiring, and whether the words were ever spoken by him or not, the well-known idiom has provided many people with the motivation to pick themselves up after “defeat” and “fight on” for something that matters to them.
The spider kept on swinging until he made it across, but did it do anything differently on its seventh attempt? Robert the Bruce kept on fighting, but did he do anything differently on the day he won the battle? The message in the legend is that it takes perseverance to succeed, and this is certainly true, but, as Albert Einstein* once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
Perseverance is a key factor in terms of achieving goals, but remaining open to making necessary changes as you persevere is of equal importance. Things don’t always go to plan, but if you want to succeed, you don’t give up. To succeed, you need to persevere, but to avoid a repeat of the last attempt, you may need to persevere with a new plan. Perhaps the last word on trying again should go to W C Fields who once quipped, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then give up. There’s no use in being a damn fool about it.”
*Just as Robert the Bruce may never have said “try, try again,” the insanity quote is often attributed to Einstein, but he may never had said it!
Don MacNaughton is a High performance coach having worked with thousands of people over the last two decades to achieve their goals and dreams.
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