Life lessons from the lowly honey badger.

As wild animals go, the honey badger isn’t much of a looker. Squat, vaguely skunk-like, with none of the panache of Badger from my childhood favourite The Wind In The Willows. And yet, by all accounts this little rascal is a bonafide badass. A few years ago, a hilarious video surfaced on YouTube arguing that the “crazy, nastyass” honey badger is quite possibly the fiercest animal on earth.

Tangle with a king cobra? No problem. Fight a lion? Why not. Plunder the larva and honey from a nest full of bees while being stung hundreds of times? Big whoop. Mix it up with jackals? Bring it. 70,000,000 views later, it’s still hard to watch it without pissing yourself laughing.

But behind the humour, there’s an important life lesson: The undeniable power of resilience. Like the narrator says in the video, “honey badger don’t give a shit.” And we can learn from that. Because to be successful in life (heck, to survive in life) it often pays to ignore all the rules, naysayers, facts and odds stacked against you. For example:

Steven Spielberg  When Jaws went into production, the director (then just 26) was told by the studio suits that it would be impossible to shoot on the open ocean. At the time, sea adventures were filmed in giant tanks in Hollywood (a practice that continues today–The Perfect Storm and At Sea were shot this way). But he insisted that it wouldn’t be credible.

Worse, the script wasn’t even finished when they started shooting and the mechanical shark kept malfunctioning. But ironically, these setbacks (and his own inexperience) worked in young Spielberg’s favour, because they allowed him to shape the story as he went along. The results speak for themselves: One of the first blockbusters, and one of the best monster films of all time.

Jaws_Spielberg

Jaws_Set

Curtis Mayfield  In the mid-90s, the legendary soul singer and guitarist (“Superfly”) was paralyzed from the neck down when a lighting rig crushed him as a tornado struck his outdoor concert in Atlanta. He could’ve easily given up. Instead, he poured every ounce of energy he had into recording New World Order, one of the best records in his long and acclaimed career.

The sessions were exhausting. They had to lay Mayfield’s fractured body on the floor of the studio to fill his lungs with enough air to painstakingly sing each verse, one line at a time. The results, however, are stunning–a beautiful, soulful, life affirming album.

Emma Sulkowicz  When Columbia University didn’t take action against her rapist (a fellow student) this courageous young woman created “Carry That Weight,” a blend of protest, performance art and senior thesis rolled into one. As she explains in this video, Emma carries the 50-pound mattress she was raped on with her wherever she goes on campus, as a visceral reminder of the school’s failure to deal with sexual assaults. Just try looking away.

Emma Sulkowicz 'Carry That Weight" project.

Emma Sulkowicz Columbia+Carries+Mattress+qAbGrHHVEh3l

George Lucas  Hard to believe, but every major studio in Hollywood turned down Star Wars. And when Lucas showed a rough cut to his best film school pals (Spielberg and Marty Scorsese) they told him it was a guaranteed failure. After all, he had inserted clips of old black and white World War II combat films for Star Wars’ epic aerial dogfights as placeholders until Industrial Light and Magic could finish the pioneering special effects. We all know how that one turned out.

In their infinite wisdom, the all-knowing suits also passed on the toy rights, claiming that no one would want souvenirs from a failed film (see a pattern here?). The franchise and those toy rights made Lucas a billionaire, and he’s been laughing all the way to the bank ever since.

GeorgeLucas StarWars 1

The Beatles  Every major record label in London passed on the band, thinking they were nothing special, until EMI took a chance on them. The label paired the lads with genius producer George Martin and together, they went on to change music forever. And Sir Paul stayed with EMI for 45 years.

Jim Carrey  Rumour has it that when the fledgling comedian moved to L.A., he carried a check made out to himself in the amount of ten million dollars. He kept it in his pocket for years until the day he was finally a big enough star to be able to actually cash it. In the words of Ted darling Amy Cuddy, “fake it ’til you make it.”

Nelson Mandela  Mandela was imprisoned for three decades by South Africa’s racist Apartheid regime, but he never lost faith in himself, or in the cause. The time in jail only strengthened his resolve. Once released, he became the leader of his nation and one of the most admired politicians ever (‘admired politicians,’ how’s that for an oxymoron?). In his brilliant words, “It’s always impossible until it’s done.”

Nelson Mandela early life

The irrepressible Nelson Mandela.

Arnold Schwarzenegger  When the champion bodybuilder showed up in Hollywood and proclaimed in his thick Austrian accent: “I vant to be a moooveee stah” the studios scoffed. They told him to come back after he had changed his ridiculous name, fixed the ugly gap in his teeth and learned to speak proper English. A decade later, he was one of the biggest stars on the planet. And went on to become the governator of Caleeforneeah, one of the largest economies in the world.

Arnold Schwarzenegger young

Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator 2.

Mothers everywhere  My dad used to say that if men had to give birth the human race would’ve died out long ago. True. Between the pain, the lack of sleep, the toll on your body and your psyche, there is surely no tougher job on the planet. And then try re-entering the job market and re-inventing yourself as you’re suffering the indignities of going through the change. Mothers (and women) in many parts of the world have it even worse, being subject to oppression. They are the real unsung heroes in our midst.

Pakistan - mother and child

Keith Richards  Keef is a human cockroach (and I mean that in a good way). Drug busts, overdoses, falls from trees, the changing musical tastes of the public, nothing can keep him down. He keeps going and going and going, like the Energizer bunny, in part, because he’s one tough son of a bitch but also because he still believes so strongly in himself, and in his band.

Keith Richards young

Keith Richards now

No doubt you have your own examples. For me, each of these is a vivid reminder of one of the best life axioms out there:

The trouble with rules is, they rule out brilliant exceptions.

So when life kicks you down (and more often than not, it will–over and over and over and over and over again) channel your inner honey badger and do what that irrepressible little badass would do:

Carry on. And don’t give a #$%&.

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