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Tina Turner's Mantra

For sixteen years, her husband beat her. But on this night, Tina Turner washed the blood from her face, wrapped a cape around her bloodied clothes, covered her eyes with a pair of sunglasses, and placed a wrap on her head, because the swelling was so bad, she couldn’t wear her wig.

She ran out of the hotel, hid among the trash cans, and then ran to the Ramada Inn, where she begged for a room. All she had was thirty-six cents and a Mobil credit card. But after sixteen years of cruelty, she finally walked out on Ike Turner. To be clear, it wasn’t easy. She was so worried about her safety, she stayed with friends, paying her way by keeping house. It got so bad that Tina Turner—the Tina Turner—had to use food stamps.

And yes, it’s incredible that Tina Turner built her career back from nothing. But what’s even more incredible is the battle cry she repeated inside her head—the battle cry that gave her strength: “I will die before I go back.”

Never forget it: No matter how deep the hole is, you can always find a way out. In their divorce, Tina Turner gave Ike nearly everything. All their money. And the publishing royalties for her compositions. “You take everything I’ve made in the last sixteen years,” she said. “I’ll take my future.”



This morning while listening to Tina's music and scrolling through my LinkedIn feed, I came across the above. When I read, “I will die before I go back”, I had to stop. CLEAR. POWERFUL. INSPIRING. This victim of abuse was certainly not telling herself a victim story with that mantra. I looked at the seven words closely to see what more there was to see, as I was riveted. Here's what I noticed:

Word count

I marvelled at the powerful story she was telling herself in those seven words. Seven words. A story of agency, not victimhood. A story of resolve, not doubt. A story of promise, to herself and of herself. Much like the moral of the fables Aesop told us, when the lesson is served up in a crisp and memorable way, it becomes the story that we repeatedly tell. That’s extremely powerful messaging. Yet another lesson from Tina.

Words count

What if her mantra had been “I could die if I go back.” ? Different story. How do these two small substitutions affect the conviction of the mantra in your mind? Still seven words, however the weaker verb and connecting word radically reduce the power of the message. I played around a little more to see how the meaning changes with other tiny adjustments. Compare them to Tina’s words, “I will die before I go back.”

I would rather die than go back.

I will probably die if I go back.

I might die if I go back.

Small change, big difference.

On reading her mantra, I now more clearly get a “when hell freezes over” vibe. YES Tina!

The stories we tell ourselves are the most important stories of all.

What words are you using in your own stories?

Thank you for it all Tina Turner.


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