In 1875 English poet William Ernest Henley wrote the poem Invictus. Little did he know that his verses would one day inspire the likes of Nelson Mandela and spillover into Hollywood. I saw the movie Invictus this week and it was very moving.
The movie caused me to do a little digging and what I discovered was fascinating. It turns out that Henley had a reason for writing the poem. As a twelve year old he had developed a bad case of tuberculosis in the bone of his left leg and foot. The disease progressed for years, and at age 25 the only way to save his life was to amputate his leg below the knee.
However, Henley didn’t let the hardship stop him from achieving greatness. Written from his hospital bed, the poem Invictus was his response to the amputation. The Latin translation of Invictus is “unconquered.”
Author Robert Louis Stevenson would later say that Henley and his wooden leg were the inspiration for the character Long John Silver in his classic Treasure Island.
Nelson Mandela would also look to Henley for motivation some hundred years later. He kept Henley’s poem written on a scrap of paper in his prison cell while he was wrongly incarcerated for 27 years before becoming the President of South Africa.
There is still much to learn from Henley. But what if he had allowed his disease to derail his influence? What if he had used the hardship as an excuse?
A leader never knows who or when he will inspire. Still he must lead, even when no one seemingly follows. Influence will eventually take place.
If you are experiencing some challenges in your life and leadership I encourage you to refuse to yield to the temptation to abandon your task. Resolve to stay the course. Resolve to be unconquered.
Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance , My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears, Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years, Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.