Why Does Everyone Love a Comeback Story?
Some of the most compelling stories are comeback stories. Take Steve Jobs. In 1985, he was forced to resign from Apple. He spent years and hundreds of millions of his investors’ money trying to start a computer company called NeXT. It didn’t work. Then, in 1996, Apple bought NeXT and Jobs returned to Apple, making it one of the most iconic companies in the world.
Tiger Woods is another example. His carefully crafted public persona came crashing down during 2014, with revelations including infidelity. He suffered through injuries and physical problems that caused his golf game to deteriorate. He underwent four back surgeries, including spinal fusion and was arrested for a DUI in 2017. He seemed to have spiraled into darkness from which it might be impossible to emerge. But on April 14, 2018, in what may be the most improbable sports comeback in history, Tiger won the Masters Golf Tournament. He was back.
Naturally, I’ve thought about why comeback stories are so powerful a lot since grappling with my own painful challenges over the past few years—challenges that led directly to my founding Pain-2-Power. And I think the reason is that you can’t come back from a profound defeat, or from spiraling into darkness, or from finding yourself facing a major depression, without finding strength and faith and the will to go on. You can’t come back without finding yourSELF. And that journey to self—as the eternal source of one’s true power—reminds everyone that there is a place inside us that remains a well of possibilities and potential and passion, no matter what happens in our lives. That’s why a comeback story doesn’t move us just to celebrate the person who makes the comeback, it moves us to celebrate the miraculous force that resides inside each of us—a saving force we can dig deep and find, given the will to do so.
The hero’s journey, as described by Joseph Campbell in his iconic book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, makes it clear that the most moving stories of all time include the hero falling into the abyss, experiencing spiritual death and rebirth, being transformed and returning stronger than before. We are all potentially heroes of this kind.
The parting of the Red Sea, when Moses holds out his staff to make the waters recede so that the Israelites can escape the Egyptian Army, has its metaphor in each of us. The Resurrection has its metaphor in each of us.
Who among us will not know or has not known suffering? Who among us will not have to decide whether to take up residence in that suffering or find strength through facing it? Tremendous power and great potential can be realized when we “decide” not to dissolve into our pain, but, instead, to continue putting forth the effort to walk through it and, thus, be remade by it.
Dr. Keith Ablow