Reflections on John C. Maxwell’s Sometimes you win, Sometimes you Learn: Life’s Greatest Lessons are Gained from Our Losses

As my journey to learning and personal growth continues, I introduce you to John C. Maxwell’s “Sometimes you Win, Sometimes you Learn: Life’s Greatest Lessons are Gained from our Losses.” I will be sharing from this book, because I believe that the lessons are relevant to everyone who has experienced loss.


The book begins with some hard truths about loss and learning. When you are losing, everything hurts. Loss causes us to be emotionally stuck. ‘Losses weaken, imprison, paralyze, dishearten, and sicken us (Maxwell, 2013, p. 10).’  Losses cause people to be mentally defeated. Loss has an impact on people’s mental health. It defeats people and can create a negative cycle in life which has the potential to become a trap. In this trap, losses hold people back and wear them out.  People feel inferior to others, they hesitate, get demotivated, lose perspective, and questions linger. Ultimately, losses have an impact on one’s self-image. Losses create a trap and they never leave people the same. Despite the hurt that comes with loss, Maxwell argues that ‘…life’s greatest lessons are gained from our losses – if we approach them the right way (Maxwell, 2013, p. 2)’. For one to have a shift from loss to lessons you need to focus on humility, reality, responsibility, improvement, hope, teachability, adversity, problems, bad experiences, change, and maturity. I will be sharing the lessons I learnt from each chapter that touches on these issues. I hope you will find it useful as I do.

Humility: The Spirit of Learning

Do you tend to believe you know it all? Do you tend to think you should be in charge? Do you sometimes believe rules don’t apply to you? Do you believe you shouldn’t fail? Do you tend to believe you get things done all by yourself? Do you believe you are better than others with less talent or status? Do you think you are important as or more important than your organisation? Your responses to any of these questions determine whether you have a learning spirit or otherwise. It also determines whether you are a humble person or not.

Humility is concerned with what is right and not who is right. Humility is about taking responsibility. It is about being objective, realistic, open minded, flexible, secure and connected. Pride however, is about blame, denial, closed mindedness, rigidity, insecurity, and isolation. Like I have share in the previous posts, you can always change from being a prideful person to a humble person. The only thing you have to know is that the change doesn’t happen overnight and is not a passive process. In the end, humility always wins. I hope you will make a decision to choose humility today.

Reality: The Foundation of Learning

‘If we want to succeed in life and to learn from our losses, we must be able to face reality and use it to create a foundation for growth (Maxwell, 2013, p. 41).’ Before we face reality, we need to accept three realities; life is difficult, life is difficult for everyone, and life is more difficult for some than others. Unless you have been living on another planet, you will agree with John C. Maxwell, that life is hard. The reality is, nothing comes easy in life. You have to work with your hands, paying with sweat, energy and blood at times. Sacrifices have to be made, gratification delayed, and pleasure put on hold. Regardless of this reality, some people still believe that life will be easy one day where their laziness, lack of action and initiative shall be rewarded with success. Good luck! The challenges of life are faced by everyone. Even the person that you believe has not tasted problems, failures and losses will shock you when they share their stories of failures.  Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people. One thing to note is that the playing field is not leveled. Therefore, it is a waste of time to compare yourself with others by using a non-existent leveled field as a benchmark. John C. Maxwell writes ‘life isn’t fair, and we shouldn’t expect it to be (Maxwell, 2013, p. 44).’

‘wishing isn’t solving. Denying a problem only makes it worse. So does getting angry and yelling, or taking it out on loved ones…If I want to solve it, I need to take action… (Maxwell, 2013, p. 52)’

Responsibility: The First Steps of Learning

Taking responsibility is uncommon because of the belief that our life is out of our control. Yes, some aspects of our life are out of our control, but the good part of it is within our control. To make progress in our life, we have to understand that we are responsible for our life.

When we don’t take responsibility, we develop a victim mentality. ‘Rather than taking responsibility for their lives, many people are trying to take the easy way out by establishing themselves as victims of society, the economy, a conspiracy or some alleged discrimination (Maxwell, 2013, pp. 58-59).’ I often say that not every person who claims to be a victim, is a victim. I am sure everyone can testify on this. When we don’t take responsibility, we have an unrealistic perspective of how life works. We constantly engage in blame game. We give away the choice to control our lives. We eliminate any possibility of growth for success.

Nothing happens to advance our potential until we step up and say, ‘I am responsible.’ If you don’t take responsibility, you give up control of your life (Maxwell, 2013, p. 53)”

Improvement: The Focus of Learning

‘My desire is not to become superior to anybody else. I only want to be superior to my former self (Maxwell, 2013, p. 85).’ In my opinion, this is a great approach to personal development that comes only from a person who is self-aware. Improvement should be done on a daily basis. We are to intentionally walk into each day knowing what we plan to improve about ourselves on that day. Improvement is a daily commitment. Most successful people are dedicated to improving every day. They will ask themselves these questions: What did I learn today? How did I grow today? What will I do differently?

Improving yourself is the first step to improving everything else. ‘If you want to improve your life, family, work, economic situation, influence, or anything else, you need to first improve yourself (Maxwell, 2013, p. 79).’ Improvement requires us to move out of our comfort zone. To do this, we need to handle our aversion to making mistakes, and overcome a life controlled by feelings. It is worth understanding that improvement is not satisfied with ‘quick fixes.’ Improvement is a never-ending process that involves taking small steps. ‘…Small victories of will, little denials of self, faithfulness in little things (Maxwell, 2013, p. 83).’

Hope: Motivation of Learning

It is very true that people who learn are motivated by the hope they have. When you have hope that life will be better, you are able to endure the pain and sacrifices of learning. People with no hope do not invest in anything including learning. ‘If you lose hope, that may be your last loss because when hope is gone, so is motivation and the ability to learn (Maxwell, 2013, p. 90).’ As life gives punches that see you encountering loses, don’t allow ‘hope’ to be among your losses.

According to Maxwell (2013), we cultivate hope by realizing that hope is a choice, changing our thinking and winning some small victories. Despite the disappointment that comes with having hope, we have to make a decision to choose hope. Choosing hope is rewarding most of the times. We need to be able to have a positive mindset in the midst of a storm. This is not easy but it’s possible. My personal favourite is creating some small victories. Small victories have a way of fueling the hope we have for ourselves. To have small victories, you need to start doing. Take some small steps that might go against your feelings. Don’t worry about your feelings, they will catchup once the small victories come.

Adversity: The Catalyst for Learning

‘Adversity is everyone’s, but the story you write with your life is yours alone (Maxwell, 2013, p. 142).’ I am yet to meet a person who has not had a personal introduction to adversity. Adversity is here to stay. This, therefore, challenges us to think of ways to respond to adversity. We can allow adversity to lead us into depression and discouragement. We can also allow adversity to be our teacher and at the end sing a new song.

Adversity is a catalyst for learning. It introduces us to ourselves if we want to know ourselves. The character of a person is tried and tested the minute adversity walks in. How you respond, tells a lot about where you are at that particular time, in relation to your character, and areas that need improving. It also introduces you to some good attributes that you never knew about yourself. In short, it shows you your blind spots.

Adversity writes our story and if our response is right, the story will be good. Great biographies and a great speaker, share stories that have one common theme ‘how I overcame adversity.’ They tell us about the steps they took in the midst of adversity to emerge victorious. This is what makes their story sellable and beautiful to listen to. The same can happen to you, if and only if, you respond positively to adversity.

Problems: Opportunities for Learning

‘If you and I want to gain the full benefit from every problem, challenge, and loss, we need face the difficulty with the determination to gain something from it. Do that, and you can become a hero in your own life (Maxwell, 2013, p. 158).’ The formula for dealing with life and its problems remains the same, the right approach.

Things you shouldn’t do when it comes to problems?

  • Don’t overestimate or underestimate the problem
  • Don’t aggravate the problem
  • Don’t wait for the problem to solve itself

When we encounter a problem we are encouraged to do these things:

  • Do anticipate the problem
  • Do communicate the problem
  • Do evaluate the problem
  • Do appreciate the problem

Positive thinking is how you think about a problem. Enthusiasm is how you feel about a problem. The two together determine what you do about a problem – Norman Vincent Peale

Bad Experiences: The Perspective for Learning

If you are human, then you have had a bad experience before. The bad experiences should be because of ignorance or stupidity. ‘Ignorance means that you didn’t have the necessary knowledge to do the right thing. A person can hardly be blamed for that. Stupidity is the result of knowing what to do but not acting upon that knowledge (Maxwell, 2013, p. 170).’

How to gain something from bad experiences:

  1. We have to accept our humanness: We need to make peace with the fact that we are human beings and are not perfect. So, when we make mistakes, it should be a reminder that we are human – something that misses, especially when we become influential people in society. Whether you are the president or a janitor, you are human.
  2. Learn to laugh at yourself and life: Always find something to laugh about when you make a mistake. This usually happens after you come out of the problem. This is difficult for people who believe that laughing and smiling makes you weak. My message to you is ‘Chill out! Relax! It is never that serious!’
  3. Keep the right perspective: We have talked about this almost every day. You need to keep a positive attitude no matter the mistake. It is good for you. Denis Waitley writes ‘Mistakes are painful when they happen, but years later a collection of mistakes is what is called experience.’ Don’t base your self-worth on a bad experience. We need this reminder often. We are not our performance, and our bad moments are not who we are. Don’t feel sorry for yourself. You are allowed to feel sorry for yourself for some hours. After that, pick yourself up and get moving. Consider your failures as a process to learn and improve.
  4. Don’t give up! It is never an option. No matter how hard it feels, never give up.
  5. Don’t let your bad experience become worse experiences. You can do your damage control by having a teachable spirit. Bad experiences become worse usually because of ego, excuses, blame-game and not accepting that you have really messed up. People try to cover up a mistake and in the process, make matters worse.
  6. Let the bad experience lead you to a good experience: No matter what, work on finding a way to learn from your mistakes. The lessons should be able to inform how you will carry yourself in that area in the future. Fools keep making the same mistake because they never learn.

Change: The Price of Learning

Change is not something that is welcomed by most people because it usually comes with its price. Change comes with personal loss. Some changes that you have to make come with some painful losses. Change feels really awkward because we get to step into a space that we have never been in before. Don’t mistake feeling awkward for being wrong. Good changes do not always feel okay. Most times, you haven’t fully figured out this new space. Change challenges tradition. We have people and systems in the world that thrive on keeping things the way they are. Bringing change therefore disturbs this system, and it is not always easy or pretty.

Most people change only enough to get away from problems, not enough to fix them. ‘Most people would rather change their circumstances to improve their lives when instead they need to change themselves to improve circumstances (Maxwell, 2013, p. 183).’ Most people do the same thing the same way, yet expect different results. Albert Einstein called this insanity. Most people see change as a hurtful necessity instead of a helpful opportunity. Most people won’t pay the immediate price to change and end up paying the ultimate price for nothing changing. Most people change only when prompted by hurt, learning and receiving. These three are one of the main drivers for change.

To make the changes that count. you have to do the following:

  1. Change yourself: The problem and the solution are what you see on the mirror
  2. Change your attitude
  3. Change your non-growing friends
  4. Determine to live differently than average people: think differently, handle feelings differently and act differently
  5. Unlearn what you know to learn what you don’t know.


Learning to learn is not easy. However, it is not impossible. It just demands a decision and discipline. Through this book, I have learned the power of keeping my mouth shut and listening. I am one person who does more talking and less listening which is not always good. Most importantly, I have learned to listen until the end before I interrupt someone and say, I already know that. What I have learned is that, even though I already know what the person is sharing, there is always something knew that I learn. This should be obvious for a Christian who reads the same bible verses and chapters for your entire life, but always get new revelations every time. There is always something to learn from what you consider, ‘I already know this.’

Another important lesson from this book is to understand that ‘uncomfortable’ does not always mean it is ‘wrong.’ I apply this in terms of decisions that I make and the people within my circle. I am not always comfortable with the decisions my friends and family make. However, my comfortability or lack thereof is not a measure of a right or wrong decision.


Maxwell, J. C. (2013). Sometimes you Win Sometimes you Learn: Life Greatest Lessons are Gained from our Losses. New York: Center Street.