Lessons from History’s Most Persistent Loser


He was mentally ill; tried to live off just coffee, smoke and alcohol; almost never slept; and was regarded as a total failure since only one of his paintings sold when he was alive.

But Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh refused to back down, going on to create hundreds of paintings, each worth millions today.

His relentless persistence, in the face of his personal demons, has lessons for us all.

1 – In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.

Often, when we don’t get the applause we seek from our passion, we quickly become discouraged and give up. We even resent our talent, believing that nobody sees it except us. But give things time. Quality always wins in the end.

2 – Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.

It is said that Van Gogh was able to overcome his depression – if only briefly – by exercising his love of painting. Doing what we love puts us in the right place. The love spreads to the point where all of life appears good.

This picture of a prison courtyard was painted when van Gogh himself was imprisoned at an asylum in France. Painting was his comfort. While not well known, van Gogh was also a brilliant writer as evidenced in his letters. 

3 – If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.

Our mind fears embarrassment, so rather than try something we want to do, we back off. Van Gogh was a tortured soul, far more than most people. Despite his insecurities, he painted – and the more he painted, the better he felt. The lesson here: do it for yourself. Worry not what others think. It is YOU who must be pleased.

4 – What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?

Our lives consist of accomplishments made possible only because we had the courage to step out of our comfort zone. If you want to start a business, learn new skills or meet new people – go out and do it. Know this: You will always be able to adjust and refine as your adventure unfolds.

This painting was made by van Gogh two years before his death. Named “The bedroom” he hoped people would get a sense of rest and calm looking at it. He loved the bedroom scene so much, he painted it 3 separate times (all 3 looking almost identical).  

Vincent Van Gogh was largely ignored by art critics when alive – viewed as a troubled loner. It was only after he committed suicide in 1890 that people began to see the genius in his work.

The amazing thing about Van Gogh: Despite a tough life of poverty and illness, he was able to produce over 2,000 pieces of artwork, including almost 900 paintings.

Never give up on your passion. Hold on to it dearly. For it gives life meaning.


The photo at the top of this post is of Van Gogh at age 13.

Vincent van Gogh loved painting nature, but was most proud of his portraits – including those of himself. In fact, van Gogh painted himself many times, careful to hide his mutilated ear, which he had cut off and given to a prostitute. He went so far as to paint himself with his bandaged ear. (Note the likeness of the eyes between this painting and the photo).

6 thoughts on “Lessons from History’s Most Persistent Loser

  1. Very inspiring Cory! I think there are many who feel like giving up and people aren’t aware because they can present themselves in the public image as happy and content. I wonder how many people truly do not know their own worth? Encouragement does mean a lot. If someone is always trying to improve and gets no feedback, they feel like a failure, especially if they are dealing with demons like Van Gough did. Thank you for this!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s