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The best kind of rocket fuel

In 2002, golfer Brian Harman held a one-stroke lead entering the final hole of the U.S. Open Junior Championship. He hit his next shot into the water and would go on to lose the tournament.

In 2017, Harman entered the final round of the U.S. Open with a one-stroke lead. He couldn’t hold on, ultimately finishing in a tie for second place.

On Saturday, after going into the third round of The Open Champion with a five-stroke lead, he putted two bogeys in his first four holes — and seemed destined for a similar fate.

That’s when eight words from a heckler in the gallery changed his mentality.

“Harman, you don’t have the stones for this,” the spectator said.

But a little over 24 hours later, Harman captured his first Open championship — and credited the slight from the fan as the fuel he needed to lock in.

“It helped snap me back into, ‘I’m good enough to do this. I’m going to do this. I’m going to go through my process, and the next shot is going to be good,’” he said.

This appeared in Mike Lombardi’s outstanding newsletter, “The Daily Coach.”

I love this story.

More than a decade ago, a small cabal of not-so-anonymous cowards tried to end my teaching career in spectacular fashion. They sullied my name and reputation in an outrageous, unprecedented, coordinated attempt to portray me in a deliberately disingenuous and defamatory way.

And for a moment, they thought they had succeeded. They actually bragged to people about their imminent victory.

But they were wrong. They did not succeed. They failed because they were wrong and wicked and rotten.

Instead, the community rose up and supported me. My friends stood by me. Colleagues came to my defense. Politicians stood by my side. In a stunning bit of drama, the summer ended with every single parent of my future class insisting that I teach their children in the coming year while others clamored for a spot in my classroom if a parent opted out.

It was one of the most challenging times in my life and Elysha’s life, but ultimately, we won.

But the people responsible for those heinous actions remained in my orbit. In some cases, they remain in my orbit today, And despite their attempts to remain anonymous or mitigate their responsibility, their identities quickly became known to me, which meant I had to see them often.

I still see some of them from time to time.

But this only fueled my fire to be as successful as possible. It made me want to be the best, most successful, happiest, healthiest, most prosperous human being I could be.

Winning, I knew, would be the best revenge.

One year after those cowards initiated their attack – almost to the day – I sold my first novel to Doubleday. I made my dreams come true by becoming a published author and launching a successful writing career that has led to six novels, two nonfiction books, and at least two more books on the way for next year.

We bought our home thanks to that first book.

One year later, Clara was born. Thanks to my publishing career, Elysha was able to stay home with our children for the next decade.

One year after that, I stood on a stage in New York City and told my first story. I won that first competition and have gone on to win many, many more. That first story has led to an unexpected but blessed career in consulting, taking me to places as far away as Victoria, Canada, and Sao Paulo, Brazil. It’s afforded me the opportunity to share stages around the world with incredible performers, meet amazing people, forge new friendships, and work for Fortune 100 companies, Ivy League universities, religious organizations, hospitals, schools, and most recently, the FBI.

It allowed Elysha and me to launch Speak Up, producing more than 100 shows throughout Connecticut over the past ten years.

United States Senator Chris Murphy performed in one of our shows.

My storytelling career has also led to TEDx Talks, opportunities to serve as a substitute minister in churches, a chance to perform Jewish folktales in concert with a full orchestra, days spent with members of the Mohawk Nation of Canada teaching storytelling, weekends spent working and relaxing at luxury resorts, and so much more.

Every step of the way, every bit of success that I have enjoyed, I think about those who tried so desperately to destroy my teaching career. I think about how much my success must endlessly frustrate them.

They wanted to see me fail. They wanted to bring my dream of becoming a school teacher to an end. Instead, I’ve used their hatred and vileness as fuel to succeed.

Every single day that I enter my school since those terrible days  – without exception – I place my hand on the door to my classroom, and just before I pull it open, I think, “I’m still here. You lost. I won.”

Like Brian Marman, who found focus and confidence in the words of a pathetic, sidelined naysayer, I, too, find fuel to be successful by reflecting on the past and what a small group of people tried to do to me.

We cannot allow our detractors, critics, and honest-to-goodness enemies to undermine our confidence, strike fear in our hearts, or cause us to pause in pursuing our dreams. Instead, we must use their words and deeds as the impetus for our future success. We must take their negativity and use it as rocket fuel to the stars.

Admittedly not always the easiest thing to do, but if you can, and you must, it’s the very best thing to do.