Insights: Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight

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Do you ever get to the end of the day, or the week, and feel you want to put your head under the blankets and hope that when you wake up tomorrow, all of today’s problems will just magically go away?

Yet it is these days that we learn the most, that make us appreciate the good and we get to make new decisions about our future. It is okay to take a day or even a week when needed to grieve and regroup.

It takes courage to say “it is now time to get up again and move forward.” As Nelson Mandela said, “Do not judge me by my successes; judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” And then there is that Japanese proverb: “Fall down seven times, get up eight.”

Part of life is falling down—falling many times. Ernest Hemingway even makes fun of falling apart when he said “I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?”

The sooner we understand that life will be full of punches, the happier we will be. Life is less about what happens to us but rather how we handle the challenges.

I remember when I was doing my internship, I worked with a teenage boy from Somalia.  He came into my office with a big smile. I asked how he was doing and he replied “great.” Most of my students when they came in were not so happy.

I started to listen to this teenage boy who had seen his parents and sister murdered in front of him, who had been shot himself and still had the bullets in his legs that had left him in constant pain and with a limp.

Then he shared how he had escaped Somalia and managed to get on a ship as a refugee and ended up living in Orange County with a group of other orphans. He was fed one meal a day, struggled to speak English and wore the same clothes every day. Here he is saying “great.” I had to stop myself bursting into tears after hearing the trauma and sadness of his life.

So how did he get back up when he had such loss in his life?  His response was, “what are my options? I can give up and that would be easy to do, or I could get up and give my life all I have.”

Then he went on to say how after grieving, and getting through the trauma (there will always be a piece of this in his life), he decided to look at how fortunate he was for having made it to America where he felt safe and had a bed to sleep in and could go to school. He then smiled and added, “and I get to play basketball, not very well, but I get to play.”

Ultimately we all have a choice in the morning to wake up and say ask ourselves “how do I move forward?” I know the great things in my life have typically come from those moments where I fell down.

As Hemingway said, I would prefer to be awake and have my life fall apart (as it does at times) than be asleep and have everything okay.

Contact Dr. Shelly Zavala at or [email protected].


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