Thursday, July 18, 2013

How to succeed at failing. (From somewhat of an expert in the field!)

We live in a success oriented culture. If you don't think this is true, consider the case of Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) of the New York Yankees. When A-Rod was leading the Yankees to one pennant after the next, no one seemed to care that A-Rod was using steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. But when A-Rod started to struggle (after he was forced to play without PED) he became the pariah he is today. Lesson to the young people in the world: As long as you are successful, the methods you used to become successful don't matter. And the converse: if you are not successful, you will be rigorously cross-examined and then cast aside. By way of a second example, here is just one paragraph of what I found on the net when I googled the issue: (from Total Pro Sports)
The Caltech Beavers men’s basketball team (NCAA Div. III) hold the longest losing streak in NCAA history. Spanning 207 games and 11 years, the team went from 1996 to 2007 without a win. Their in-conference losing streak has lasted even longer. After last night’s loss to Pomona-Pitzer, the team has lost 307 consecutive conference match ups since 1985. It’s worth noting that the school has a strict admissions policy, which explains the lack of talented athletes. That said, why even have a team?

Do you notice the derisive tone? Why even have a team? Really? I chose this sample because it was the best example of my point: we have lost sight of the value of losing. Value in losing, you ask? What could that be?

Losing teaches courage. Don't agree? Watch a little league game for verification of this. The winning nine will be all smiles, standing erect and jumping around as if they just won the World Series; the losing side are hunched over, heads down, not saying much. I like to watch the latter bunch. When you see one who straightens up, holds his or her head high and looks the opponent in the eye while shaking hands, jot down that kid's name; he or she is going places.

Everybody knows you can learn lessons from losing, but most people don't bother to find out what those lessons were. Sometimes the reason for a loss can be obvious, such as: they have LeBron James and we don't. But many times the critical factor is much more subtle. I recently wrote a post about my long journey to get into medical school. When I was told by my pre-medical Dean that I wasn't going to be recommended for medical school, that was a loss, a painful one. And I had the same choice that every person does when they are put to the loss test: I could gripe about it, vent my spleen about how things weren't fair, blame the people that had let me down along the way (the American pastime), even contest the ruling, or I could accept it and figure out why things had gone down the way they did. What could I do differently the next time to lead to a better outcome? That is the loss test in a nutshell, and I think there is no better judge of winning character. Every one smiles when they win; far more important is how one reacts to a loss.

I am a writer; I lose all the time. Try pouring your heart and soul (and wallet) into something, only to hear 'Not for me' or 'The market is too tight' or, even worse, hear nothing at all. It isn't a lot of fun. But there is a reason your manuscript didn't make the cut, and you have to find out what that was and change it. If you didn't get the job you were interviewing for, don't blame anyone and everyone else. How could you have prepared differently? If you are overweight: How can I change my eating habits to slim down? Filing a law suit against McDonald's indicates you have failed the loss test. It means you have refused to accept personal responsibility for your loss, and are blaming others--in this case, in a very deliberate and public way.

There is a reason we all need to learn to fail successfully: we are all going to fail. We are going to fail in every facet and discipline in our lives. We will have failed relationships, failed courses, failed businesses, failed undertakings of all kinds: And do you know what happens to you if you don't know how to succeed in failure? Yup, you got it, you stop participating and spend your life on the sidelines, where will you be spared from having to fail. Putting yourself out there requires the courage to fail, and many (I call them life spectators) don't have it.

I can't imagine a worse predicament in life than not participating in it. There is more to life than sitting in front of the television set. Like to travel? Pick up your backpack and go to Italy like you have always dreamed of. The only person stopping you is you. Take up skiing or golf. Buy a dozen Dixon Ticonderogas (the best pencil made) and write a memoir or a novel. Make a movie using your Iphone. Learn how to make pies and then make the best blueberry pie ever (and then send it to me, it's my favorite). Plant some blueberry bushes. Read a book and write a review on Goodreads or Amazon. Volunteer at a local homeless shelter. Start a blog! Learn to play the piano. Do something. Get involved in your life, whatever way you can.

But remember, somewhere along the way, you are going to rack up some losses in your new endeavors. A golf match will end in a loss; your blueberries will be eaten by birds; your memoir will be rejected by two dozen agents and publishers; your trip to Italy will be cancelled because the entire sky over the Atlantic Ocean will be covered in volcanic ash (this actually happened, remember?) But it is how we react to these losses that defines us. If you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back on the horse, you win, regardless of what the scoreboard says.

Ok, that's enough from me, and I have to mow the lawn. In case I have inspired you to read, check out Fancy Feet by Heidi Cave, the defining story of turning tragedy into hope. I have pasted the link HERE. Thanks for your attention.