The Motivation Lab: Episode 1, I Am the Captain of My Soul

Joseph Rupp
4 min readMar 4, 2021


Artistically enhanced portrait of British Poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903) with the Caption Question: Has a Poem ever inspired you?
Uncredited Picture of William Ernest Henley

Synopsis: British Victorian poet William Ernest Henley (1849–1903) suffered incredible personal tragedy at a young age when he lost the use of his left leg due to complications of tuberculosis of the bone at the age of nineteen. He then faced even more challenges before he summoned enormous courage and memorialized his mindset in his famous short poem, Invictus.

He found ways to motivate himself to conquer those challenges. I hope you enjoy this tribute focused on the background of the poem. And, if you like, share the material with others to give them a jolt of inspiration! Welcome to the Motivation Lab!

One of my favorite poems is William Ernest Henley’s inspirational poem, Invictus. I cite the full poem at the end of this post.

In the accompanying video I mash up the first and last stanzas. The poem spans a short 4 stanzas, 16 lines and 103 powerful words. So, you might wonder why I mash up the sections at all! Still, Henley packs a profound mixture of imagery, emotion and allusion in those 16 lines.

A brief reminder of the purpose of The Motivation Lab. It forms the content portion of my site: Sugar High Motivation.

This is a passion of mine. No arduous work involved. I must imagine you will sense that as I share this first post with you. Here are a few things to consider!

· These emails, videos and posts are designed to be quick and inspiring. I want to offer you a jolt of inspiration or perspective on an aspect of positive motivation in a moment that might lift you up.

· If you are at work and want to share this with your teams, you can ignite a reflective exercise that engages them in an inspiring way.

· I’m going to give you a very simple framework and technique to use with your teams (if you are subscribing with the intent to share.) You can use the tabletop exercises to inspire, motivate and build awareness. I’m starting simple with a provocative question.

· Over time, I plan to aggregate and curate (put into an eBook, video, blog post) feedback from members to capture and share. You can use it to explore inspiration from across the community or share with your co-workers.

With respect to our example, Invictus, for example, when have you had to motivate yourself the way Henley did amidst a desperate personal moment or tragedy?

I ask this question because what you may not know (and, I was not aware of before I researched the topic) is that Henley wrote this poem while he thought he was on the precipice of losing the use of his right leg. He fought fiercely to keep it. You can imagine why. Henley had already lost his left leg from the knee down due to complications from Tuberculosis of the bone, an affliction he suffered from childhood.

It was only because of the brilliant work of visionary surgeon Joseph Lister, that Henley retained the use of his right leg. But the desperate hopefulness expressed in his poem belies the tragedy he faced and willed himself to overcome.

He poured himself into his poetry as a way to both cope with his challenges and will himself to face them. It took enormous courage in the face of devastating circumstances.

Henley wrote a collection of poems, the most famous of which is Invictus, titled In Hospital. As the title suggests, the poems reflect his experience and attitude and served to help him endure the incredible challenges he faced. I hope you enjoy the video and this brief post.

As promised, here is the entire poem:


Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be,

For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.

- William Ernest Henley

In case you are interested, here are a few links to related material.

I recognize that Wikipedia may not be the best source for bio information, but there is a lot here, accompanied by and supported with a number of citations.

Incidentally, as mentioned in the video, Nelson Mandela, no stranger to incredible challenges, famously recited the poem to himself to help him summon courage during dark moments while imprisoned on Robben Island. Here’s a link to an interview where Morgan Freeman, who portrayed Mandela in the 2009 movie of the same title, Invictus, discusses the topic.

Finally, a little shameless plug: if you are interested in subscribing to the Motivation Lab. Click here.

Link to my original YouTube video introducing the concept.

As always, if you are interested in joining my email list:

Thanks so much for stopping by!



Joseph Rupp

I focus on how to effectively imagine, create and sustain individual and team transformation.