One of my favorite poems is by noted writer Rudyard Kipling. If— is a classic of Victorian literature, full of stoic Britishness and facing the world with that stiff upper lip. I know several folks who hate Kipling for his very British colonial view on the world, and they view the poem as an example of why the Victorians were so horrid.
For me it’s always been a snippet of how I try to live. It’s not about being stoic, it’s about being able to face down the chaos around you, and still find a way to navigate that chaos and come out on the other side. It’s about not taking the view of others to heart. It remains a set of words I turn to when I need to think through a challenging set of future options.
It’s about strength, potential, and possibility.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:.
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!