Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn: An Interview with John Maxwell

Last week marked the publication of Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn by my good friend, John Maxwell. I recently had the opportunity to interview him about his book. In a moment, I’ll tell you how to get a free copy.


John has been my friend and mentor since I first started working with him in 1998. He had just finished writing The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. I was the VP of Marketing at Thomas Nelson and and part of the team that helped get the book on the new York Times bestsellers list. It was the first of many for John.

The title of this book, Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn, is, obviously, a play on the old phrase “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.” Why did you give it that title?

Well, I definitely hate to lose. I’ve always been competitive.

Playing basketball as a kid, monitoring stats for my companies—I always want to win. But everyone loses. The question is, what do you do with that fact? “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose” implies that you just need to accept losing.

I didn’t like that attitude because it doesn’t help a person improve. So if you can’t eliminate loss, how do you make it productive either? You learn from it. I believe it’s the only way to turn losses around and make them work for you.

You talk in the book about our need to learn from our mistakes. What is a major mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?

I actually tell this story in the book: Back in early 2009, after I spoke at my friend Chris Hodges’ church, a member offered me a gift: a handgun. I really am not a gun person, but I accepted his kind gesture and put the gun in my briefcase. I had flown to the event in a private plane, so there was no problem making the trip back home with the gun.

The problem came about a week later, when I went to the airport to fly commercial to my next speaking engagement. As the briefcase traveled down the conveyer belt in the security line, I suddenly realized—the gun was still in there! I had never taken it out after getting home.

At about the same moment, the TSA agent saw the gun on the x-ray. In spite of the fact that he knew me, of course he had to follow protocol. I was arrested, handcuffed and fingerprinted, and had my mug shot taken. The incident was reported in our local paper and quickly went national.

Even though eventually I was found to have done it unintentionally and the arrest was expunged from my record, I had the opportunity to do a lot of learning from that experience. The main thing I learned was that we are all one small step away from “stupid.” When I tell the story, people have a hard time believing anyone could be that stupid. The reality is, someone could. I’m just glad my stupidity didn’t cause more harm than it did.

You call reality the foundation of learning. Can you explain why you believe that’s true?

Well, my experience with the gun played out in front of the world, but many of our mistakes are more private. And it’s easier to deny or ignore them. However, pretending you didn’t mess up robs you of the opportunity to learn. I think acknowledging the reality of our situation is the very first thing that needs to happen. Only after that do we have an opportunity to grow from the mistake.

Sometimes it’s really hard to face the reality of a big mistake. It’s so tempting to try to cover it up. But covering up rarely works, and then you have an even bigger problem on your hands. I would much rather confess that I’m an idiot and choose to move forward and grow from the experience.

You tell a story in the book about a woman who came up to you and said she’d been reading your books and listening to your teaching for eight years, and that you’d given her the gift of hope. That really meant a lot to you. Why is that important to you?

I really believe that hope is the difference-maker. Whenever you lose, it’s hope that gives you the desire to overcome the loss. Hope for something better is the catalyst for wanting to learn. I’m so happy to hear that someone has received hope from my work because it means I’m giving them something vital that they need to grow and change.

Hope plays a big part in Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn. With this book, I’ve tried to help readers change the way they look at losses, cultivate qualities that help them respond to them, and develop the ability to learn from them.

I gave away 50 copies of Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn. To qualify, my readers had to comment below. You can find the list of winners here.

Question: What have you learned from a big loss? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Want to launch your own blog or upgrade to self-hosted WordPress? Watch my free, twenty-minute screencast. I show you exactly how to do it. You don’t need any technical knowledge. Click here to get started.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • Theresa Ceniccola

    I’ve learned that God has greater plans than I do.

  • Rev. Darian L. Hybl

    I lost my job that I loved. I would not have left the position and would have been happy the rest of my life. But God had different plans. Prior to this my wife and I had been trying to start a family. In loosing my job, my wife was offered a position that allowed us to have a child.

    More importantly I had to crucify my ego and be reformed and reshaped by God for bigger and better things.

  • Marcie Lewis

    When I didn’t get into the graduate school program that I wanted, I was devastate but I learned that one program cannot define you, and there were other programs that were actually better suited to my career path that I hadn’t explored in the first place because I thought I wanted something. I am now much better at fully investigating all of my options and not letting other peoples decisions impact me to the same level.

  • Pete Stone

    One of the most treasured principles I learned from a major personal failure is that I am not defined by what I do in life, but rather by the content of who I am.

  • Joshua Swift

    I have had some big losses and at the time I thought it was the worst thing in the world, but in retrospect I can now look back and see that it was the best thing that could have happened to me. If I hadn’t had the big loss I would have went down a different path that seemed like the best thing at the time, but now I see the loss was the best thing for me. God had better plans for my life and He always knows what’s best.

  • Nigel Macdonald

    Does the book address the reality that winning is often a barrier to learning and suggest how we can avoid that combination?

  • anshul10s

    I have learned that its not end of the world when you make a mistake, its just a confident elimination of one of the approach/path to reach my goal.

  • Jeremy Clopton

    I have learned to put things in perspective and really focus in on what is important. Many times a shift in focus can help lead to success in the future.

  • Hilary Schrauf

    I learned that sometimes a loss can be a blessing in disguise. A loss, especially a big one, provides the opportunity to get a new perspective on yourself, your work practices, and your deficiencies. I had a major loss earlier this year and that experience showed me EXACTLY where I could improve my skills. I’m still working to fill in those knowledge gaps, but I know they are there. Like Chris P. says below, “The things I don’t know that I don’t know are what often bring defeat.” I’m saying there’s always a “win” in there somewhere when you get the chance to improve!

  • Ckraphie

    I have learned that there is always a “bright side” to my darkest situation… an opportunity to grow and move forward

  • Gil Michelini

    Don’t do that again!
    While I am was on the road to my biggest lost, I was learning about and from Jim Rohn. I remember him failure talking about failure as “you have messed up” and to stop doing what I was doing and start doing something else. After I messed up, I have worked to never go down THAT road again.

  • darkwah

    mistakes are what we fear most, but someone said, success is failing forward, yet another person (Winston Churchill) said, success is moving from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm. those are all true. there cannot be failure without mistakes; and there cannot be success without learning from the mistakes. Good job.

  • darkwah

    I’ve learned that being too much emotional about problems sometimes unnecessary leads to more problems – mistakes.

  • Ron Russell

    I’ve been laid off twice in my career for extended periods. I learned that no matter how bleak things may appear I will survive. I also learned – or rather affirmed – that I am not facing these trials alone. I have an amazing wife, two wonderful daughters and great parents, all of whom love and support me unconditionally. Both experiences lead me to redefine myself in terms of who I am professionally and both for the better.

  • Swat Khan

    Thanks for sharing. We are always correcting ourselves towards our target.

    What I’ve learned from a recent setback is a hard learned lesson.

    From this hard lesson there was a piece of wisdom that I took away and felt stronger. This wisdom can also be applied to future situations or to consult and help others in a similar situation. Mistakes only help us grow.


  • Kraig Harper

    Making mistakes means you are trying to grow. Learning from your mistakes means you are growing.

  • Mike Hansen

    I have learned that a loss doesn’t define me as a person, nor what God has called my life to be. Big Picture. Must always keep that in mind.

  • Eric

    From big losses, I’ve learned the values of perspective, hard work and perseverance. Perspective–you don’t have it as bad as some people and failure isn’t final. Hard works–eventually your work is noticed and you excell. Perseverance–few things can last against true perseverance.

  • Ken Doyle

    Thanks for sharing about “Hope”. Without the gift of “Hope”, we can lose our passion & excitement for life, we can become prisoners in our own minds without purpose, and can become frozen as to what direction we should move forward in.

    Jeremiah 29:11
    For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to
    prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

  • Marilyn Turk

    I’ve learned humility, that I can be replaced, and that the world will go on. But I’ve also learned not to put my trust in earthly things, like my job or my employer to take care to me. Once those were gone, I realized only God can and will take care of me.

  • David Hooper

    I’ve had several “losses” over the years and the biggest thing I’ve learned from them is that life goes on and you can move forward. As long as you don’t make the same mistake again, it’s not a big deal. And even if you do make the same mistake, even though you may feel stupid, it’s not a big deal…just part of the process.

  • Anne Day

    To me a mistake is lesson I had learn, albeit sometimes the hard way

  • Sandra Roy

    Resilience. You can recover from anything. Don’t give up.

  • Wayne Morgan

    I have learned three things from big losses in my life. 1) The worst loss, perhaps the only real loss, is the one where I did not learn anything from the experience. 2) What may be seen as a loss today may actually be the foundation to a big win down the road. 3) Gold is not purified without getting rid of the dross. My losses are often only God’s way of ridding me of a character defect or person hubris.

  • Mina Samy

    I have learned that when I take a plane to break a habit in my life, I should not always expect success. My responsibility is to cling on God, and God is responsible for the rest.

  • Sue Detweiler

    John Maxwell has been a man of integrity who has strengthened my leadership skills. I remember going through The 21 Irrefutable Laws with my staff when it came out. I look forward to learning from this new book. Thanks Michael for making us aware of the resource.

  • Anthony Spallone

    Thanks Mr. Hyatt and Mr. Maxwell for this post. I have learned from a big loss that it’s never over. No matter what happens it will always work out for my good and the glory of God. Thank you for highlighting the importance of hope at the end of this post.

    God bless,


  • Charissa Greer

    I have learned the importance of staying humble in the situation. Instead of making excuses or going into blame-game mode, going to a place of humility helps me to focus on the task of learning rather than shutting my mind off.


    I learned that sometimes a goal you pursue is based upon fulfilling someone else’s dream rather than your own and when you fail in achieving that goal, it can free you to pursue what really drives you. I went to Veterinary school because I had been told since childhood to be a Doctor. When it did not work out, I was free to pursue a career that used my natural strengths and loved my experience in Law school! I went on to practice law for over 20 years.


    My first business loss was losing a customer that was about $5,000-10,000 a year in business. I was so frustrated. But it turned out to be a blessing so I could focus on customers that generate more profit. The customer was very needy and not very profitable.

  • JWBrady

    Sometimes you may not find or discover the answers to the “Why” questions. Therefore you may need to just simply accept that. Sometimes the answer to “why” may not fully provide you with comfort either.

  • Matt Law

    John Maxwell is one of those guys that gets you started on the leadership journey. The 21 Laws was my first leadership book and was very impact on my life. I read Failing Forward after going through a terrible business time which included bankruptcy back in 2008 and it really lifted my spirits. I’m going to check out this book.

  • Bonface

    Loosing helps you learn a new way of not succeeding

  • Rick Conlow

    Too many times I don’t learn from my experiences because I am not honest with myself. This most often relates to these private mistakes you talk about. I wonder if others are in the same boat as me. I have noticed that this is where fear rears its greatest challenge, and that it takes real courage to learn needed lessons in life.

  • AT

    My failures have been the greatest experiences of my life. I did not feel that way at the time, I thank God I can share my experiences of losing a job I loved, losing a business, and other setbacks that allowed me to dig deep into my spirit and tap into the grit I needed to become a successful minister and educator. What an amazing journey my life has been!

  • Mere Birch

    You can’t be perfect but there is room for improvement. I once had an unhealthy pattern to shift the blame when things did not work how I planned. Plan your work & work your plan. If it all turns to custard do not blame. Planning is my main ingredient now.

  • ron

    When i loss my job as a high school football coach, i learned how to be a better listener. I also learned how to manage in such a way as not to de-motivate people and help create a climate where the truth is heard and facts are confronted as a team. Lead with questions and communicate the shared goals and visions often. Finally hire passinate and skilled people.