Louis started out as a young man headed for trouble – skipping school and experimenting with self-destructive habits. But then one day…and in fact, one person…changed the course of his life. That person was his older brother, Pete.
Pete sensed his parents’ deep concern for Louis and realized he needed to replace those destructive habits with good and healthy ones. Pete recognized in Louis a gift for running, and so he became Pete’s coach. One day, as Louis was running, he turned to Pete who was riding his bike beside him and said he didn’t think he could make it.
Pete said, “You can do this – you just have to believe you can.”
Louis said, “That’s the trouble – I don’t believe I can.”
And then Pete said four powerful words to Louis, “I believe you can.”
Louis Zamperini then went on to run in the Olympics.
Later, as World War II approached, Louis joined the Army Air Corps.
One fateful day, Louis and his fellow crew members boarded a rickety B-24 for a search and rescue mission. As they flew over the ocean, it became clear the plane was on its last leg, and the crew prepared for a crash landing. Sadly, only three crew members survived. There they were – three men (one of whom was wounded), two yellow rafts, and barely enough rations for two or three days. They floated amongst the sharks in the vast, open sea with the sun boring down on them – day after day after day.
How they managed to survive is a compelling saga. There came a point at which the mental battle was as strong as the physical one. It was then that Pete’s words resonated once again with Louis. “I believe you can.”
Francis “Mac” MacNamara lost his battle on Day 33.
Louis Zamperini and his lone crewmate, pilot Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips, continued to survive…Day 34…Day 35…Day 36…and then on Day 47, the shadow of a ship approached. They were elated.
That is, until they realized it was an enemy battleship.
And so it was that Louis and Phil, after surviving 47 grueling days lost at sea, now became prisoners of war. Their journey for survival was not ending – it had only just begun.
As prisoners of war, they were tortured, beaten, and sentenced to work in POW camps. It was in one of those camps that Louis met his second greatest motivator. It was the guard in charge of the camp. He was a young leader, eager to prove himself to his superiors. And he noticed in Louis an unwelcome challenge – a prisoner who refused to give up.
The latter half of the movie Unbroken captures this test of courage and will in the face of unimaginable adversity. The stronger the adversity, the more determined Louis became to survive it.
And, miraculously, he did, indeed, survive.
The story of Louis Zamperini illustrates two incredibly powerful motivators in life – powerful enough to pull a youth from a path of destruction; powerful enough to create a champion; powerful enough to survive 47 days at sea; and powerful enough to live through absolute torture in a POW camp.
Those motivators are:
- Someone who believes you can – one who inspires you to do more than you ever dreamed possible.
- Someone who believes you can’t – one who by virtue of challenge makes you stronger than you ever knew you could be.
As leaders, seek out at least one person who believes you can, someone who sees your potential and won’t let you give up.
And be thankful for those who believe you can’t.
One will nudge you forward, and one will try to push you back. Both will make you strong.