How we learned the importance of rolling with the punches to overcome disappointment
Paddy Barnes was left reeling after his Rio defeat, but we all suffer setbacks at times and the key is how we bounce back. Two writers reveal the lesson that they took from a body blow.
It took just one look at the expression on boxer Paddy Barnes' face when his opponent's arm was raised in victory at the Rio Olympics to realise the bitter disappointment being felt by the normally ebullient Belfast man.
A flag-bearer for Team Ireland at the opening ceremony, Paddy was tipped as one of the leading contenders for a gold medal having already picked up bronze at both the Beijing and London games.
But there is little doubt that the famously cheeky chappy will bounce back, perhaps even becoming a professional boxer. He even managed to tweet golfer Rory McIlroy after losing his opening bout in Rio, asking if he could become his caddy.
And before his bout he posted a selfie with Danish tennis ace Caroline Wozniaki - asking her former fiance Rory McIlroy if they should get married. His fellow sportsman magnanimously replied, saying if his boxing was as good as his Tweeting he should be bringing home gold.
Such banter is typical of the man. During the London 2012 opening ceremony he famously held up a card stating that he was open for sponsorship with his Twitter hashtag beside it. The stunt won him 3,000 more followers overnight. Sadly Paddy will be coming home empty handed from Brazil but he can still claim to be one of the most successful amateur boxers this province has ever produced.
Two writers tell us how they overcame disappointments in their lives and Kerry McKittrick talks to four local people who stress the importance of moving on no matter what life throws at you.
Frances Burscough: ‘I didn’t get the job, but it pushed me to volunteer’
There’s a fridge magnet in my kitchen that I look at from time to time. It’s one of those motivational quotes printed against the backdrop of a setting sun. As an object it is very twee, I admit, but the message it contains has been priceless over the years.
“If we will be quiet and ready enough, we shall find compensation in every disappointment.”
Henry David Thoreau
This is so true.
Although I’m naturally of a positive and cheerful disposition, like everybody I’ve had to deal with a few regrets of my own over the years.
One particular setback springs to mind, because it brought with it a compensation that was so rewarding it far outweighed the disappointment from which it had generated.
It happened a couple of years ago. I’m a freelance writer and self-employed, so I’m always looking for new opportunities to further my career and to earn a living.
As I was scouring the jobs section, I came across an advert that sounded like it had been written just for me. It was a charity that was starting up a new scheme for people with a media background, to train them to be a spokesperson to promote their work and help further their aims.
I won’t name the organisation, but it was related to wildlife conservation, which is something I’ve been passionate about my whole life.
God, it was absolutely perfect in every way. They wanted an articulate enthusiast, who could negotiate the media and encourage people to care more about the natural world around them.
To me it sounded like a dream job — like a cross between Chris Packham and Michaela Strachan (but without the dodgy knitwear), but based here in Northern Ireland.
It was part-time, too, so I could carry on with all my other work and — even better — it was fully funded, too, so I’d be making money in the process as I learnt a new skill and opened up a new avenue.
Of course, I applied, spending ages on the detailed form with a covering note that pointed out precisely why I was their perfect dream candidate.
I was so confident I would get a call-back I even cleared my diary for the dates the training would start.
Then I waited ... and waited ... and heard nothing. Not a good sign.
Maybe they’re away on holiday.
Maybe it’s a very long holiday.
Finally, after an entire summer of waiting with bated breath, I got an email telling me I had been unsuccessful.
What? I didn’t even get an interview?! But ... but ... surely there’s some mistake.
I really couldn’t understand it. So, I emailed them back to ask why I hadn’t even been considered. The reply explained it in a nutshell.
Although I had an impressive CV, they were looking for someone who had proven their commitment and enthusiasm for conservation by working as a volunteer.
I had never done that. I’d preached, but never actually practised.
Yes, that was a huge disappointment for me, not least because I had let my imagination run riot about a job I was destined never to get.
But the compensation was that it pointed me in the direction of doing voluntary work in the environment, which I have been doing for two years and I absolutely love.
I would still love to be the next Michaela Strachan and, if another opportunity ever arises, I will leap at it with my usual vigour.
But I’m now spending one day a week immersed in the natural world — and loving every minute of it.
Alex Kane: I'd be lying if I said I wasn't miffed at not being selected by the UUP
In the autumn of 2003, having been a member of the Ulster Unionist Party - on and off - since 1974, I decided to throw my hat into the electoral ring.
I had chaired selection committees, prepared candidates for selection meetings, written speeches for candidates and briefed quite a few of them on party policy, constituency issues and general tactics. In other words, I thought I was an ideal candidate. And I thought North Down was the ideal constituency.
In the 1998 Assembly election, the UUP had won three seats - Sir John Gorman, Alan McFarland and Peter Weir. John was standing down and Peter had joined the DUP, so there were a couple of vacancies.
Alan was defending his seat and he was being joined in the selection race by a number of local councillors, including Leslie Cree, Roberta Dunlop, Marian Smyth and Diana Peacocke.
I always used to warn candidates who didn't live in the constituency that their chances would be slim, on the basis that "all politics is local" and that you can usually depend on your branch to provide the core of your vote at the selection meeting.
My own constituency was South Belfast, but with the two MLAs (Esmond Birnie and Michael McGimpsey) defending their seats and no chance of a third being won, North Down seemed like a reasonable bet. How stupid was I. I might as well have said that I was from Outer Mongolia, rather than being a few miles from the constituency boundary.
I also discovered - although it should have come as no surprise to me - that the internal rivalries between branches and local council "personalities" would make it very difficult for an "outsider" to get enough traction.
Though I say so myself, I gave a pretty good speech and had a very enjoyable question-and-answer session afterwards.
So, I was happy that I had acquitted myself reasonably well and, even though I didn't end up as one of the three candidates, I certainly wasn't humiliated in terms of votes.
But I would be lying if I said I wasn't miffed. I would also be lying if I didn't admit that I took some satisfaction from the fact that the party lost its third seat in the subsequent election.
Like all disappointments, though, you take it on the chin. Had I been selected and then lost the seat, it would have damaged me.
And Northern Ireland might have been deprived of one of its best-loved political commentators and columnists!
Four local people tell Kerry McKittrick how they coped when it went wrong
Eoghan Quigg (24), from Dungiven, hit the headlines in 2008 when he came third in the X Factor talent show. He says:
I was very young when I went on X Factor and, looking back, I think of it as a massive achievement. I think I would be more nervous if I was to do it all over again, because I know more about the industry and what can happen in it.
I didn’t know the dark side of the industry in 2008. I just thought it was unbelievable that I was singing on TV instead of sitting in school like my friends.
I didn’t win the show but I placed third and got booted off on the final night. I didn’t miss any other nights and I still got to live the life afterwards with the record deal and everything. I was buzzing to get home, too — I was still young and homesick after spending so much time in a strange house in London.
I got everything I wanted out of the experience but I missed out on other things. I missed the last few of my teenage years and I missed out on finishing my education. The dream would have been to win X Factor but it didn’t happen and third wasn’t bad either. I was very lucky in that I had very supportive family around me.
I decided to go and finish my education. I’ve just done two years of music production technology and industry management. I had an offer to do my final year in Manchester but I declined, so I could take a gap year. I’m currently gigging and performing.
I love performing but it’s a fickle and difficult industry, so I would also like to be employed by a record company. I want to do something in the industry like becoming a talent scout and helping in the development of new artists, or even manage an act. I would love to share my experiences with those entering the pop business and let them know that, as well as the bright lights of showbiz, there can be a downside when it all fails.”
Rebecca Maguire (24) is a pharmacist and also runs the Miss Belfast pageant. In 2012, she was crowned Miss Ireland after the original winner was stripped of her title. She says:
I can only imagine how much hard work Paddy put in to training only to take such a fall. You really have to take it on the chin, but it’s not easy. People still talk about what happened to me in Miss Ireland.
My disappointment really taught me a lesson for life and that you have to take the highs with the lows. I came second in the competition in 2011. I spoke to the judges afterwards and they told me it was very close, in fact there was only a point in it. When I heard that I thought I should really go for the title the next year as it was something I really wanted.
Then, in 2012, I came second again — I was devastated. When you come so close to something like that you feel like you have let yourself down and you’ve let your family and friends down, too.
I knew there was something wrong nearly straight away — there was a strange kind of atmosphere at the final. The next day I realised there was definitely something up.
I started getting all sorts of messages asking where I was, what I was doing and who I was with. I even said to my boyfriend that day that I thought I might win by default.
As it turned out, Marie Hughes, the winner, was too old to represent Ireland at Miss World, so she was stripped of her crown and I was installed as winner. I was a little upset — I still wish I had that amazing moment of finding out I won on the night, but it’s something I’ll never experience. I also got trolled by people on social media telling me that I wasn’t picked and it shouldn’t have been me. It was meant to be me, Marie’s crown was taken from her for a reason.”
Naomi Long (44) is an Alliance Party MLA who lives in Belfast with her husband, Michael. She lost her seat at Westminster to the DUP’s Gavin Robinson in the 2015 general election. She says:
Given the context of the unionist pact in 2015 and the parties I was up against, I knew that I might not keep the seat. We fought a very good campaign and we got a good result, but we did not win and that’s what an election is all about.
I think going into any big venture like that, you have to be prepared for the chance that you won’t win right from the outset. I was disappointed for my staff — in those circumstances it’s not just you that’s effected but the people who work for you, too.
The party invested a lot of time and energy around the campaign and you find yourself
concerned for everyone’s future. I was expecting the DUP’s win to be more convincing, so I was actually quite pleased with the result we got, and I had been preparing myself for the next stage. In politics you know that, when you get involved, that it might just be a temporary thing. The only other election I lost was the 2005 Westminster election and I never expected to win that.
In life you’re always going to deal with disappointments, be they big or small, and the way you deal with them is important. I didn’t have a plan for after the election one way or another because I really didn’t know which way it would go. Afterwards, I wrapped up things in my offices and then I decided to do a few things I’d been putting off for years.
Michael and I went on a big trip around the world that we had been putting off for 10 years. We also got a dog — ours had died when I was in Westminster and I didn’t have the time to train a new puppy.
I realised pretty quickly that I wanted to stay in politics, although it wasn’t a foregone conclusion immediately after the general election. I wanted to be involved in making a difference and that hasn’t changed for me.
I’m really gutted for Paddy and I know just about everyone was cheering for him. Being an elite sportsman is a high-pressure environment, and you go and you do your best and we should give him credit for that.”
John McCallister (44) is a former MLA and founder member of NI21. He lost his Assembly seat in May when he ran as an independent. He lives in Banbridge with his wife, Jane, and their children, Molly (5), Harry (4) and Hugh (2). He says:
Losing the election in May when I went from being an MLA to very quickly not being one in a very public way is probably my biggest disappointment.
Elections are a public event with thousands of people voting, so you have nowhere to hide. You have to carry on though and family and friends will be supportive, and I’m sure Paddy will find the same thing. His true friends and supporters will rally round.
Disappointments are hard at the time but you have to get up and dust yourself down and keep going on to bigger and better things. I always knew I was up against it in that election — I was standing against the party machine and I had the wreckage of the NI21 experience, so there were just too many things against me. I was delighted to get the Opposition Bill passed in the Assembly just weeks before the election though, that felt like a real achievement.
I realised when I was out canvassing that people had nothing against me personally, they just decided to stay with the party system and that wasn’t going to get me over the line. It was always going to be a struggle.
I would have very much been the underdog if I had won in May but, with Paddy, success was expected and that was hard. It just wasn’t meant to be and I just hope that he has a great career and future ahead of him.”