I'm reading a book by two teens called Do Hard Things. It's a book which represents a rejection of the low values and expectations the world at large has for teenagers. Their point is that just because you're aged 12-18, the belief you are incapable of taking on difficult challenges is nonsense. See, the idea of the "teenager" is actually a relatively new one, and the result of excesses of the Industrial Revolution. Before that, there were two categories: children and adults. They cite examples like George Washington, Clara Barton (who would later found the Red Cross), and David Farragut (who had his first ship command at age 12) as examples of teens or younger who did great things at that age. If you want to read more about what they're saying in that arena, check out the book or the web site. I'd like to focus on a point they make, which I've seen pointed out before by other performance coaches. That's the idea that personal failure is simply a result.
Inevitably, when we try to do things, sometimes we're going to fail. That's life. For instance, consider that if you fail to get a hit in baseball 65% of the time, you'd be considered one awesome hitter. Now simplifying things and taking out walks, sacrifices, and the like, that still means you fail almost twice as much as you succeed at this simple task. Only a rare few can maintain this kind of clip in Major League Baseball. And they would be considered success stories. So why are we so afraid of a personal failure? Some would say because there is more riding on our successes and failures. But that's not necessarily the case. For instance, a single swing of the bat can mean a sizable difference in the fortunes of certain individuals and teams. Just ask the Red Sox about this historic homerun. That little ball flying out of the park resulted in a change of fortune for two baseball teams. So why do we put so much emphasis on personal failures?
Often we treat failure like a disaster. We treat failure like an incurable disease. As a result, we become afraid to try something new. We hesitate to attempt something great. We may be miserable where we are, but at least we understand and know where we are. Failure brings about an unknown. For that matter, so does success. So we simply don't try. We don't push ourselves, or at least we don't do so with any sort of intensity and passion. And then, years later we wonder why we haven't gone a lot further than where we find ourselves.
Instead of treating personal failure like a disaster, we need to treat it simply as a result, like 5 or 7, or blue. In the effort of trying, we should gain or improve or grow. For instance, the first time I stepped up to the plate, I made about 11 or 12 bad swings out of 15. The good swings were not due to any skill. I simply didn't know how to swing the bat. But I got up there and tried. That's what you did in Little League. My dad promptly took me to a batting cage a few times and within a couple of weeks I had a really decent swing. I learned from my mistakes. I learned how to choke up to get better control of the bat. I learned how to step properly to shift my hips and put power into my swing. I learned how to make the swing itself relatively short and compact, so that I could rip it through the strike zone quickly. As a result, there wasn't a pitcher in our league I couldn't the ball in play against and I ended up hitting lead-off because I could either take the walk (I developed my eye, too) or slap hit a single and then proceed to steal second and third, meaning I came home for a run most times I got up to bat. But that only came after many, many failures to simply make contact with the ball, much less make good contact. Over the next three years I worked on my swing a lot. At the end of my short baseball career, I left with my swing being the best part of my game. Far better than my fielding and throwing and my speed, which started out as my greatest strengths. Over the course of that time I learned how to lengthen my swing and my step to generate even more power. I was slid from lead-off to clean-up and went from the guy who set up the rest of the hitters in the line-up to the one who hit them home. But all of that came with a lot of failures. Learning to hit someone who threw sidearm. Learning to lay off the high heat. Learning to read a breaking ball coming in. Learning how to soften up on a bunt. That last one was one of the hardest things to learn. I can't tell you how many times I pushed the ball and failed to get the bunt down before I felt comfortable laying a bunt down in a real game. Each time was a failure. But it wasn't a disaster.
And so it needs to be this way in our own goals and achievements. Failure is a result. What did we learn from the process? What skills did we develop? Did we grow? Can we do better next time? This is how our minds should be focused when it comes to personal failure. If we do it this way, we position ourselves for a better result the next challenge we take on. And we're not afraid to take on that challenge. After all, we know that whatever the result, we'll grow from it. And that changes our attitude about the challenge. Now we want to tackle it to get better. It may be hard and the result may be failure, but that's just a result. What we gain will be worth it. We just have to convince ourselves that failure is a result and not a disaster.