Image Source: Abespeaks.com
You’ve probably seen them: The stories about famous peoples’ failures. Abe Lincoln failed in business three times and failed campaigning seven times. Albert Einstein didn’t talk until he was four and was considered dumb. Michael Jordan has missed tons of shots and was even cut from his high school basketball team for lack of skill.
The point of these stories of course is that you should never give up, because these geniuses failed more than you, and look what they did! However noble this sentiment, there is a bit of a problem with it. Plenty of people fail and don’t become Abe Lincoln.
Surely there are politicians whom we’ve never heard of who have failed as much or more as Abe but didn’t end up on the five-dollar bill. It wouldn’t be too hard to find a number of adults who didn’t talk much as kids who still don’t talk much. And as for basketball, everyone misses lots of shots!
No one in their right mind is willing to say that there are a million Michael Jordans, Albert Einsteins, Abe Lincolns out there, if only they won’t give up. The idea of course is that perhaps they may succeed in their smaller goals as long as they don’t quit. That may be true, but there’s more to it than “not quitting.”
There’s also more to it than “They were geniuses.” In my experience, everyone has enormous potential to become something astounding that is unique to them. However, simply not giving up will not enable people to become that astounding thing, no matter how close they will be to an iconic genius when they’re done.
Other conditions must be met. If I’m going to fail like the best, I have to do some of the other things the best did. Namely:
- Learn from my mistakes: I will keep failing until I recognize why I am failing. Furthermore, the reasons I fail may change as I get better, and I’ll have to keep track of those too.
- I can’t effectively learn from devastating and catastrophic failures: Failing is great as long as I can recover from it. Soldiers fail when they are shot dead, but they don’t learn from that. I have been in situations where failing was so painful or traumatic that it damaged me more than it taught me, and I found myself further away from my goal instead of nearer.
- Decide what’s worth the cost of failure: I might be able to be as good as Michael Jordan someday…if I had five hundred years, a renewable body, and the best basketball teachers at my beck and call. Jordan didn’t need that because of his particular genetic makeup…all he had to do was fail and notice why he was failing. Since I’m not so wonderfully equipped, I might want to consider the true, perhaps unpayable cost of trying to emulate him.
I am a huge fan of failure, and I recognize that I have not yet succeeded in areas that I have not sufficiently failed. I am also a fan of understanding how to improve. As a teacher, I will continue to help my students navigate the treacherous waters between colossal failure and deceptive success so that they can become as close to what they want as they want.