In honor of Nelson Mandela’s Birthday I decided to share something very special that we have in common.
As most of you are aware, I’m a Latin Nerd, so of course my favorite poem would be titled accordingly. Invictus means unconquerable or undefeated. Written by English poet, William Ernest Henley in 1875. For those who aren’t familiar with this poem here it is:
Henley, much like Mandela, had a fierce unconquerable spirit. He actually wrote Invictus in the hospital waiting to undergo his second amputation. The doctors told him he had developed tuberculosis of the bone at age 12 and eventually amputated one of his legs to the knee, they informed him he would have to have the other leg amputated if he survived. Henley told the doctors that they were full of hogwash. He ended up not going through with the second amputation and led an active life with one leg as well as a successful career as a poet and literary critic. Henley was truly the master of his fate and the captain of his soul.
As an individual who suffers from MDD, PTSD, OCD, and severe anxiety I began to recite this poem in my more difficult moments. Whether it’s mentally or out loud it calms and soothes me. So, it has become a little ritual of mine to recite it if I’m starting to get nervous, before I take on something big, during a panic attack, before public speaking, or a job interview, just to name a few. I got this tattoo as a graduation present to myself and added a compass, which comes from my special charm bracelet so I’ll never lose sight of the fact that I am indeed the master of my fate!
Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years for his anti-apartheid activism. He would recite Invictus nearly every day because it kept his hope alive. Morgan Freeman portrayed Mandela in the 2009 film, Invictus. During an interview with Charlie Rose, Freeman explained the poem’s significance. “When he lost courage, when he felt like just giving up — just lie down and not get up again — he would recite it. And it would give him what he needed to keep going.”
I’m a major proponent of the scientific studies that show keeping rituals increase performance, reduces anxiety, and helps individuals lead more healthy and productive lives. If this doesn’t do it for you, I’d encourage you to find something that does, memorize it and start your own personal ritual.