Tag Archives: failure

This Might Not Work

Front Cover PTB 210x300

I’m a little more than halfway through Seth Godin’s new book “Poke the Box” and I’m duly intrigued.  It’s funny because it’s a pretty short book and the text is not densely packed onto each page, but it would be a terrible mistake to think this implies the thoughts contained therein are as thin as the book itself.  OK granted, I read it on a Kindle so there is no thickness to the book to begin with, but you get my meaning.  Sheesh… cut me some slack!  OK, where was I again?  Oh yes… Mr. Godin.

The driving concept behind the book is summed up in one word: initiative.  The secret sauce that makes things go and people stop their hand-wringing to actually START something.  The magic of the book is how Godin goes far beyond just blandly discussing initiative and why it’s important to more of a call to action.  Huh… it’s like an initiative for initiative in a way.  I think I just blew my own mind right there.

I am going to get back to reading the book some more tonight, but 4 little words he stresses in the book really jumped out at me: “This might not work.”

What’s the power of such a simple sentence?  The fact that it’s a pivotal idea you need to get comfortable with… or at least more comfortable with… so you can fully immerse yourself in a mindset of being a starter.

We all tend to want perfect and we want it now and on the first try, damn it.  And if we cannot have it?  Well then hell, we better wait and plan and scheme and spend oodles of time creating charts on how when we finally get around to starting… ohh at that glorious moment, all will be PERFECTION.

Except it never is.

This all calls to mind one of my favorite quotes from General George S. Patton: “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

Therein lies the truth of it all… that it’s a very rare time where inaction is better than action of some kind, shape or sort.  This clearly assumes at least a modicum of reasoned thought about what action to take, but certainly not the kind of endless procrastination masquerading as deep reflection that a lot of people do… and I clearly place myself into that big ugly mess.

Tomorrow I begin using the season of Lent as my own way to spur on the action I’ve avoided.  I’m giving up Facebook.  I’m spending more time in person with friends and family.  I will struggle mightily to get this damn blog in order.  Heck, I even had my very first blog post go up today on my new work blog,  about which I am endlessly excited, especially because I decided to just push it forward and see what happens.

Here’s to a good 40 day run, made up of what I hope to be a string of single day mini-runs.  It might not work, but I’m starting to get comfortable with that… or at least as comfortable as I can be.

Focused on Failure… And Why That’s a Good Thing

Tricia Helfer from Battlestar Galactica

Failure is a funny sort of topic to write about, quite frankly.  I mean… just look at the word.  Failure.  There’s simply nothing attractive about it.  It doesn’t feel good to say and God only knows it never brings with it a single glimmering positive connotation of any kind, shape or sort.  It just sits there looking at you with this smug smirk of self-satisfaction because it knows you and it are not strangers to each other’s company.  Oh no… we are all humans and it’s essentially hardwired into our genetic code to face many failures in our lives.  Wait, if you are reading this you ARE human, right?  Not some freaky-deaky Cylon?  See, this is what I get for watching several seasons worth of Battlestar Galactica during my Christmas holiday break… I mean, unless you look like Tricia Helfer as a Cylon.  Then we’re square.

But failure is something I’ve written about once or twice before on this very blog, mostly because despite all of the negativity associated with it, it’s really a pretty fascinating topic to me… whether it’s why we fail, how we fight against failure and, most importantly to me, how we respond to our own failures.

I am confident that part of my focus on failure is based on a book my Mom gave me several years back when I was going through a very rough patch in my own life.  The book is by John C. Maxwell and it’s entitled “Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes Into Stepping Stones For Success” and it really shifted my thinking on how I view my own shortcomings, mistakes and failures.  I’m not going to claim victory over failure forever and that I can walk away from my failures as if they never ever occurred… but I am getting a lot better at handling my mistakes for sure.

I bought the book again recently for my Kindle since I couldn’t find the original hardcover… I have to believe I lent it to someone at one point or another.  Several passages within it struck chords with me all over again and I wanted to share a few of them.

First:

When achievers fail, they see it as a momentary event, not a lifelong epidemic.

Second:

Tell yourself, “I’m not a failure. I failed at doing something.” There’s a big difference.

In all honesty, it was difficult to narrow it down to 2 quotes from the book because I highlighted quite a few more than that.  However, I think these 2 are timely and serve a bit of a key message as 2010 comes to an end and people begin to think with hope (hopefully!) about what lies ahead in 2011.  And these two quotes link up with each other so beautifully to create a singular point on failure that bears a little time noodling over.  So be prepared to noodle, my friends… seriously, prepare yourself.  Get a comfy chair, a cup of green tea and a little Tchaikovsky or something.

The first point is about how failure is just that’s fleeting… if you approach it that way.  It’s a singular event and a moment in time – it’s not the blueprint for how the rest of your life will unfold.  Hell, it’s not even the blueprint for how the activity you failed at will always unfold… provided that’s how you look at it.  Therein lies the challenge, no doubt… to isolate the moment as just a moment, give it thought and move on.

The second point gets to how whatever the failure was… it was an event… it was not you.  But we all tend to view it that way at some point in our lives, don’t we?  “I’m such a failure!”  Ugh… just typing those words made my fingers feel dirty and in need of a hard scrubbing.  Bleah.  We personalize how we act as being an encompassing part of who we are… and isn’t that completely insane?  Especially since we rarely tend to do that with a success, but damn… we will latch onto a failure like a drowning man clutching a life vest.

And that’s where these 2 points converge into a single notion… that while you will fail many times in your life, those failures are events unto themselves and are not YOU.  If your failures truly do define you in any way, I would argue that they only do so by showing you were the kind of person willing to take daring enough actions that would risk failure in the first place.  If you never fail… well, good Lord… did you ever really try in the first place?

That’s why I focus on failure… because if I am never missing, then maybe my targets are no better than a timid goal set without ambition, daring, verve or even imagination… and I don’t know about you, but that sound like a horribly boring way to shuffle through life.

So while I may not be a riverboat gambler when it comes to risk, I will seek to push myself and risk a few scraped knees along the way.  It will give me something to talk about later.

From Whence Shall Come the Quit?

Roberto-Duran-Gives-Up-001In exploring the connection of mind, body and spirit, I am a bit fascinated by the  moment of surrender.  It’s not from a morbid sense of curiosity, but more from the vantage of why does it happen when it happens.  What causes us to stop?  To relent?  To “No mas” a la Roberto Duran?  It can certainly depend on the activity in question.

The genesis of my fascination has nothing to do with obsessing over having given up at some point.  We all end up at that place one way or the other.  I want to figure out why it happens and then get better at pushing past that moment if possible… well, provided it’s an activity I give a damn about.  It’s not like I am going to study like a medieval monk to master the art of eating broken glass or some crazy nonsense like that.

So at the moment where it all comes apart, I want to know why.  An example may be in order:

Think of someone deep in physical training of some kind or another.  Perhaps it’s a powerlifter constantly seeking to move bigger and bigger weights or, at the opposite end of the training spectrum, the marathoner who conditions herself to run for 26.2 freaking miles.  (Umm, as you can tell, I am blown away by long distance runners because I cannot imagine trying to run that damn far).

For either of these individuals, which will usually quit first?  The mind as it obsesses over each pound or each mile?  The spirit as the will to go prove something wanes in the face of greater and greater physical demand?  Or will it simply be the body reaching some point of pure capability when one more pound or one more step is completely impossible?

In these cases, I find it is usually much less about the body and a lot more about some combination of the mind or spirit.  The body can accept an inordinate amount of physical work (for periods of time, mind you) provided the mind sees some value/end goal and the spirit stay strong.  The trick is to keep those things well in mind.

What about a test of the mind?  Does this change the equation at all in terms of the weak link from the body/mind/spirit continuum?  Possibly.  I think of people pulling all-nighters where their only limit is pure physical exhaustion (or running out of caffeinated beverages).  That being said, I am still tend to think mind and spirit may give out before the body.  The all-too-common declaration of “Good God, I think my brain is full…” jumps to mind for me, likely because I have uttered it a few times when deep in study back in law school.

In the end, I think that the greatest bang-for-your-buck in learning to push past previous points of failure is more of a mental and spiritual challenge, even if the activity you are seeking to improve is primarily physical.  Take Michael Jordan – physically gifted? Definitely.  But Michael Jordan did not become MICHAEL JORDAN because of his physical gifts… it was because of an absolutely indomitable will to win.  He was just plain mentally tougher than anyone else on the court.  Period.

And how do you build your will?  Great question.  For myself, I am going to take it in 2 parts since I need work on this as does… ohh… pretty much everyone.  First, pick some activity that is about discipline and work on it.  Second, build up this activity sloooowly.  For instance, I want to be better about developing this blog, so starting next week, I am getting up 30-45 minutes earlier in the morning to write posts, comment on other blogs, do Twitter, etc.  It’s not earth-shattering, but it requires extra discipline and sometimes there is something cool about doing a hard, lonely thing.  You need to do it slowly in order to notch up a few successes along the way.  If you are working on running a marathon, maybe you start doing a few of your runs at the crack of dawn or purposefully at the end of a really long day for the sheer purpose of knowing your mind will rebel mid-way through your run and will begin to rationalize why cutting it short and heading home for “American Idol” is really not that bad because you can run tomorrow.

Pick your hard lonely thing. Tell yourself you just need to push through it ONE time and then do it.  A few days later?  Do it again.  Let the momentum build and the will shall follow.

Be fierce.  Be mighty.  Above all else, just give it a shot so you at least know you didn’t let a chance for something better slide on by.

JK Rowling on Failure

kevin 111A fairly old adage says that the two unavoidable things in life are death and taxes.  I actually can think of two other events that fit the parameters of being unavoidable: change and failure.  Quite a list there, eh?  Death, taxes, change and failure.  Possibly four of the greatest fears most people probably have.  I know I have had them at one time or another in my own life – well, maybe not a fear of taxes, but certainly a less-than-rosy view of them.

I’ve also had my own moments of failure, disappointment and heartbreak.  It’s never a good thing to decide as a senior in high school that all you ever want to be is a lawyer… to go to college and spend so much focus on getting into law school… and then working your ass off in law school to get that first shiny job with a big firm… only to realize you despise being a lawyer.  Or to be working at a job and be part of a 1/3 of the company lay-off, move home to live with your parents at age 29 and spend 9 months out of work, all the while doubting whether you can truly make something of yourself.  That’s all happened to me and while a lot of it brought me down to my knees, I also think I learned an enormous amount about life and myself in that time.

JK Rowling spoke 2 years ago at the commencement for Harvard University and touched on what failure (as painful and agonizing as it was), did for her.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

The point she makes that stuck me most was this:

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure?  Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential.  I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.  Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena where I believed I truly belonged.  I was set free because my greatest fear had been realized and I was still alive and I still had a daughter whom I adored and I had an old typewriter and a big idea.  And so rock-bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

That last line is an incredibly powerful insight and mirrors my own experience.  Granted,  I was not in a place probably as difficult and dark as Ms. Rowling, but I was certainly not at the pinnacle of my powers in any sense.  And it sucked – bad.

But it shows that when difficulties come, they are very rarely terminal.  They will require an ego-check or some pride swallowing, but they are surely not the end of it all.  It’s just a another example of keeping one’s perspective when you face the inevitable difficulties of your life.

So I would love to add a fifth unavoidable to the initial list from this posting, but maybe it’s not an “unavoidable” as much as it is a near certain result when you face some ugly times:

This too shall pass.