With the 2012 Nobel Prize and Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies quickly approaching, I thought it would be nice to reflect on the 2011 winners and the life lessons and success tips they shared with me. (Yes! I had the privilege to attend the Nobel Prize and Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies last year!)

Every year, the prizes are awarded on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death, with the Nobel Prize ceremony taking place in Stockholm, Sweden, and Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway.

Here Are a Few Highlights from Our Enlightening Adventure Last Year:

Life Lessons and Epiphanies From Nobel Prize Laureates

We spent the first days of our trip in Stockholm, where we attended the lectures of the Nobel Laureates in Physics, Chemistry, and Economics and had the opportunity to interview them afterward.

1. Be Willing to Fail

Failure is not bad. You can’t succeed if you’re too scared of failing. When something does not work out as planned or completely fails, in the end, you just admit it, people forgive you, and you move on. Pick yourself up and start over. You cannot let failure stop you.

2. Family Is One of the Most Important Things in Life

Each laureate mentioned his family—wife, children, parents, and extended family—as being a huge source of support and inspiration. Several of them credited fathers or uncles or family members they’d looked up to who were scientists, which got them interested in the profession at an early age.

3. Loving Your Work Makes All the Difference

Every laureate loves his work—all lit up when they spoke about what it meant to them personally. They were excited about winning the Nobel Prize, of course, but all said that when they got back to life as usual, the prize wouldn’t matter. What matters most is their actual work, research, and the people with whom they work.

4. Colleagues and Collaboration Are Key and Imperative to Success

Their colleagues are very important to all of these men. Each one talked about the collaboration and the camaraderie that it takes to make discoveries like these.

5. We Need More Women in the Sciences

All of the 2011 Nobel Laureates in science and literature were men, but they expressed a desire and hope to try to recruit more women to the sciences. Women have received a Nobel Prize in the Sciences seventeen times since the Nobel Prize’s inception in 1901. (There are only forty-three women Nobel Prize Laureates total in the history of the Prize.)

Epiphanies and Quotes from Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

After Stockholm, we went to Oslo and attended the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony and events. It was incredible to be attending the year that an unprecedented occurred—three women won the Nobel Peace Prize! (Taking the total of Nobel Peace Prize Women Laureates to fifteen.)

1. Vision and Courage Are the Distinct Qualities of All Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

Geir Lundestad has been the Director of the Nobel Institute and Nobel Peace Prize for twenty-one years, and he said that all of the Nobel Peace Prize Laureates during his tenure have been very different, of course, but they all share qualities of vision and courage. They all have a very clear sense of where they want to go with their work and what they want to accomplish in life. Most laureates have accomplished their work under very difficult circumstances. Many, including the 2011 Laureates, have been put in prison and continue to work and live in life-threatening situations.

2. The “3 Hs” of Honesty, Hard Work, and Humility Are Guidelines for a Great Leader

As quoted by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf when asked what describes her leadership.

3. Love Is All-Powerful 

We’ve all heard the line, “Behind every great man, there’s a great woman.” But for Nobel Laureate Tawakkol Karman, it’s “Behind a great woman, there’s a great man.” When we asked about Ms. Karman’s husband and family, we were told that her husband never leaves her side and is considerably older than her. Then we were told their story, which gave us this interesting, deeper behind-the-scenes peek you might never know about: Mr. Karman asked the photographer who was covering his wife for the Nobel Peace Center exhibit what he thought of him as a man. The photographer replied he greatly respected him and was inspired by him for standing by his wife the way he had, protecting and supporting her work. Mr. Karman was shocked at the photographer’s admiration. He said that no one in his country (Yemen) respected him, and he had been ostracized for those very reasons. Because he, by all accounts, adores, respects, and supports his wife, he has endured harassment and physical violence in his culture. In no small part due to her husband’s devotion and fierce love, protection, and forward thinking, Tawakkol Karman has been able to accomplish what she has in their country. Behind this great woman, there’s a great man (and a great love story). 

4. “What Am I Doing to Make This World a Better Place?” 

This is what I had to ask myself after celebrating what these women have accomplished and are accomplishing for peace and human rights and dignity with so little resources compared to what we have available in the United States. We are so incredibly fortunate and wealthy in the U.S., comparatively speaking, especially as women. Those women have accomplished all that they have with practically nothing compared to what we have in the way of rights, wealth, and basic necessities like reliable running water and electricity. With so many more resources and opportunities on many levels than these women have had, I have to ask: What can I do? How am I living my life? Am I living out of a place of love, peace, calm, and strength? How am I serving? How am I helping?

What are we all doing?

How can we provide hope, strength, and inspiration to others?

What can we all do to make the world a better place, just right where we are?


“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”—Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

 “You can tell people of the need to struggle, but when the powerless start to see that they really can make a difference, nothing can quench the fire.”—Leymah Gbowee

 “Speak noble words and work noble deeds.”—Tawakkol Karman

“Future generations will judge us not by what we say, but what we do.”—Ellen Johnson Sirleaf


To our 2012 Nobel Laureates: We congratulate you and wish you an inspiring celebration this year. 

The Nobel Prize in Physics: Serge Haroche, David J. Wineland

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Robert J. Lefkowitz, Brian K. Kobilka

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine: Sir John B. Gurdon, Shinya Yamanaka

The Nobel Prize in Literature: Mo Yan

The Prize in Economic Sciences: Alvin E. Roth, Lloyd S. Shapley

The Nobel Peace Prize: the European Union (EU)

Elise Ballard is the author of the book, Epiphany: True Stories of Sudden Insight to Inspire, Encourage, and Transform, a heartfelt journey full of amazing stories of fascinating people, from world-renowned figures, thought leaders, and performers—such as Maya Angelou, Dr. Oz, Desmond Tutu, Deepak Chopra and Barry Manilow—to former inmates, leading psychologists, teachers, homemakers, and many more. To learn more about Elise and Epiphany Channel, visit her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

*Photo by Nobel Prize.