If you don’t suceed the first time, try again

Published 8:00 pm Friday, August 30, 2019

About a decade ago, I heard the great motivational speaker Zig Ziglar tell a memorable story that contained a powerful lesson. 

It kind of reminded me of what my mama or grandma would have told me as they tried to get me to grow up right. They both subscribed to an old red-clay standard of there being one way to doing a thing: the right way. There wasn’t much space between right and wrong back in the old days.

Mr. Ziglar nailed that lesson square on the head in his speech at Dallas’ Reunion Arena in front of several thousand motivation enthusiasts, including a group of students whom I had taken to hear the iconic speaker. 

I’ll never forget how Mr. Ziglar owned the stage that day, bouncing around with the vigor of a teenager, telling story after story about his life experiences. 

This particular story was from when he was a boy after his family had just moved from Alabama to rural Mississippi. Some of what Mama and grandma offered regularly must’ve migrated even further west than I realized.

One day, when he was about 10, his mama told him to go outside and hoe the garden. He grabbed the hoe and did as he was told, without complaint. After about half an hour — maybe she had been watching him from the window — she came out to inspect his work. He described the sad scene with the classic Zig Ziglar chuckle:

“I knew the inspection wasn’t going to go the way I wanted,” he laughed, “just by the way my mama was walking on the way out there. Whenever I did a shabby job of something, she’d always put her hands behind her back as she walked, and she’d shake her head the whole way.”

Sure enough, that day she threw her hands behind her and was shaking her head before she had taken ten steps toward the garden. Things did not look up for Zig once she got sight of his work, either. She took one look at the halfway-tilled garden, grimaced, and with a scowl, said,

“Son, you’ve got to lick this calf again.”

He knew what it meant, but he still protested.

“What do you mean, mama?”

“I mean you’ve got to do this job again. You can do better than that.”

“But, Mama,” Zig protested again, “most mamas don’t make their sons do any better job than this!”

“That may be,” snapped his mama, “but you’re not ‘most mamas’ son.”

With that, she turned and walked away from the garden just the way she had walked out to it.

For the record, the son of this particular Mississippi mama sweated a good while longer in the garden that day, licking that calf again.