Just Barely Failing

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The late Douglas Adams had instructions on how to fly.  “You throw yourself at the ground, and miss.”  Needless to say I’ve tried it at least once.

 

I think I had that idea in mind when I helped my eight-year old daughter shoot baskets.  She was just a little too young and a little too short to get the basketball in the hoop easily.  She kept missing by  a mile, and she was ready to give up.

 

“I have a challenge for you,” I said to her.  “I want you to miss the basket 20 times…you’re not allowed to make a basket.  But the challenge is that you have to barely miss every time.”

 

Can you guess what happened?  The first shot or two she missed.  But then she began making baskets, even when she was trying to miss them.

 

She went from incapable to competent within the space of five minutes.  It was because she changed her focus from trying to succeed to gauging the distance needed to accomplish a task.  Because her job was to fail like an expert, and she wasn’t good enough to fail that well, she succeeded!

 

As I’ve meditated on that lesson over the years, as I’ve failed and failed at things in my life, I’ve begun to wonder if I can’t do what she did.  I’m beginning to suspect that the secret to success in most endeavors is, rather than trying to succeed, to actually attempt to fail at as high a level as possible.  Experts might be doing this, and that state of mind engenders the occasional perfect shot which would be impossible otherwise.

 

I imagine getting in the elevator with the person that can make my dreams come true.  If I try to say the exact perfect thing to that person, I’ll probably get tongue-tied and miss by a mile because who knows what the perfect thing is?  But if I make it my goal to just barely fail to convince them, I wonder if the conversation might be a lot more enjoyable.

 

It’s that idea of really paying attention to the distance needed, rather than playing out some scenario in my head.  It’s the difference between being engaged versus going through the motions.  It’s recognizing that perfection is a construct, while practice is an ever-changing experience.

 

Could this work for someone trying to find the right relationship?  For someone hoping to write the next great song?  For the writer working on the Great American Novel?

 

Could it be that true slam dunks are accidents, only possible because someone was close enough to the basket to fail, but they didn’t?  I have no idea.  I only know that I’m tired of trying, and ready for some flying. 

3 comments

  • Darcy Hamlin

    Darcy Hamlin

    I think I heard an interview on NPR where a very high-achieving woman's father would always ask her, "And what did you fail at today?" And then he would celebrate her failure with her, because it meant that she had tried. It really hooked her up to take risks in life, which obviously served her well! Pretty amazing. Thanks for another great post! XOXO

    I think I heard an interview on NPR where a very high-achieving woman's father would always ask her, "And what did you fail at today?" And then he would celebrate her failure with her, because it meant that she had tried. It really hooked her up to take risks in life, which obviously served her well! Pretty amazing. Thanks for another great post! XOXO

  • Adam Cole

    Adam Cole

    I heard that interview too! Thanks for commenting.

    I heard that interview too! Thanks for commenting.

  • Sharon

    Sharon

    Really beautiful.

    Really beautiful.

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