Coming back from a downfall after great success

by Mark Miller May 30, 2016

Coming back from a downfall after great success

Prometheus Bound, by Peter Paul Rubens

Stories of coming back from a downfall after great success are inspiring for anyone—even for young people who haven’t made their mark on the world yet. History and mythology are filled with people who were at the height of success, crashed and came back again.

Sometimes, people need to lose everything material to realize that they didn’t need it, or that the health and safety of their families are worth more than all the success and gold in the world. Sometimes people come back even stronger and more successful than before they “fell.”

True measure of wealth has a posting titled How Losing Everything Can Give You Even More that begins with this quote: “The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.” ~Unknown

People can lose their jobs, their fortunes, their spouses and families, their sobriety after battling addictions, their sanity, their freedom or their reputations. But many people are hardened in the fires of adversity and come back even stronger than before.

But let’s face it, no one wants to be broke or disgraced, especially after they’ve been at the height of success.

No good deed goes unpunished

Nothing is so touching in the stories of humanity as the person who does great good to benefit humanity and then is punished. As the saying goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” The prototypical story of this is perhaps Prometheus, the titanic figure of Greek myth who created people and animals, gave them the awesome gift of fire and then told them to keep the best cuts of meat for themselves and sacrifice the skin and fat to the Olympians.

Zeus, angry at all this, ordered his servants Force and Violence to chain the great titan to a mountain in the Caucasus and have an eagle eat his liver every day. At night his liver grew back and his torment began again. He did not die because he was immortal.

In the end, Chiron the centaur satisfied Zeus’ demand that an immortal be sacrificed to free Prometheus, and Herakles slew the eagle with an arrow, ending Prometheus’ torment. After that, to honor the great champion of mankind, people wore garlands on their heads in memory of the shackles that bound him. In southern Greece he was honored as a hero.

A hundred thousand paupers

Modern stories about successful people who fell and came back aren’t as dramatic as all that. Many involve the loss of monetary fortunes and the regaining of wealth. There are plenty of people who lose their fortunes. has an article that states:

Just because you’ve attained wealth doesn’t mean you’ll keep it. In 2011, the number of millionaire households in the U.S. dropped by nearly 2.5% (from 5,263,000 in 2010 to 5,134,000 in 2011), according to The Boston Consulting Group, a global management consulting firm.

That’s more than 100,000 potential Ridin’ High in April, Shot Down in May stories just in the United States just in 2011.

Kiplinger tells the story of former billionaire Bill Bartmann, who closed his debt-collection firm Central Financial Services in 1998 and filed for bankruptcy. He and his partner faced charges for alleged fraud but were acquitted in 2003. Bartmann went on to write best-selling books and founded CFS II, which had revenues of $10 million in 2012.

He coulda been (and was) a contender

Sports has a lot of comeback stories, some more successful than others. One of the most inspiring for men of a certain age is George Foreman, a heavyweight boxing great who had been Olympic and world champion as a young man. Foreman started his comeback at age 38. In 1994, at age 45, Foreman entered the ring and became the oldest heavyweight champ in history by knocking out 26-year-old Michael Moorer, who’d been undefeated. states:

In the years that followed, Foreman didn’t quite go bankrupt, but he had a “close call” according to The New York Times after “squandering $5 million.” He recovered in part by lending his name to the George Foreman Grill, which earned him an estimated $200 million.

The adventures of Mark Twain

As smart as he was, Mark Twain made some unsound investments and went bankrupt 20 years after penning The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. To pay off his debts, this great author—one of America’s greatest—wrote prolifically and endured a grueling tour to make speeches. He was not required to pay back his debtors because of bankruptcy protections, but he did that anyway and also restored his fortune.

Mark Twain later suffered grievous misfortune because of the death of his wife and daughters, one of whom passed in 1909. He went into a deep depression. His doctors said he died (at age 75 in 1910) of heart disease. But people in his community said he died of a broken heart.

What about regular folks?

Several years ago Suzanne Lucas had a story on about rich and famous people who made spectacular comebacks. Ms. Lucas introduced a follow-up article on comebacks this way:

When I wrote about wealthy and famous people who had spectacular career comebacks, several people asked, “But what about us normal humans? Those of us who don’t have millions of dollars to help us through?” Well, I asked my readers and got numerous fabulous responses. Here are the stories of people who had neither fame nor fortune, but were able to overcome great odds.

One of those stories is about Paul Owen, now a college professor who survived a childhood where his parents died when he was young, and he became an orphan and foster child in seven homes and a group home. People writes:

School and religion provided Paul the opportunity to stabilize his life. He said, “In school, I found a niche in research and academia, which led to further graduate and doctoral studies. If I had not stayed in school, I could well have ended up homeless, as foster kids don’t have many options once they turn 18.”

Paul is now a tenured professor at Montreat College in North Carolina, teaching Greek and biblical studies. He also published his memoirs, The Long Winter: One Man’s Journey Through the Darkness of Foster Care this summer [2010].

Everyone faces adversity in life, but the people who reach great heights, fall and then come back hold lessons for all of us about strength in the face of adversity, perseverance, and raging against the dying of the light.

Mark Miller
Mark Miller

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