Jim Wolfensohn was a second-year student at the University of Sydney when a friend of his and the captain of the fencing team, Rupert Bligh, asked if he wanted to go to Melbourne the next day to fence in the national university championships.

“You've got to be crazy,” Jim said. “I've never fenced in my life.”

Rupert wasn't crazy, just desperate. A member of the team had fallen ill and they needed a replacement to qualify for the event.

It was an insane idea. Jim had no money for the trip to Melbourne and no chance of success.

But he said yes, borrowed the money from his parents, and learned what he could from his new teammates on the train to Melbourne.

What a wonderful story this would be if it ended with Jim uncovering a hidden, inborn talent and vanquishing all his opponents. But that's not this story. Jim lost every bout and failed to score a single point.

Still, he said, “I tried to invent new ways to score points on the opponent. I could not remember having such a good time ever before.”

Even with his losses, the team won the championship. And Jim stuck with fencing for years, eventually fencing in the 1956 Olympics and becoming President of the World Bank, a position he held from 1995 to 2005.

Wait, what? What does Jim's fencing experience have to do with his esteemed business and political career? Everything.

Every life story is complex, with an infinite number of factors contributing to a person's ...

Get Leading With Emotional Courage now with the O’Reilly learning platform.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from nearly 200 publishers.