What did you suck at today? Failure as a strategy.
Come on, you know you totally stepped in it today.
At least once.
Maybe three times.
Failure isn’t death. We just sometimes wish it were.
We love competition in the old U.S. of A. We spend a huge amount of money identifying ourselves with professional sports teams (Go Dodgers!) and the owners of the teams who win spend gigantic portions of their profits on creating a team that can and will win. Winners are rewarded massively in sports. Losers (or perceived losers) are punished and shamed.
Our entire conversation about pop culture is framed in terms of success or failure. We spend the blockbuster season of the summer judging films on how much money they made. Jurassic World made a metric butt-ton of money this summer, in spite of being kind of forgettable. Ant-Man was a truly fun and enjoyable adventure film, but it almost got lost in the dialog about how it earned a lot less than other super-hero movies had that came before it. Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four wasn’t anywhere near as awful as the ticket sales would have you believe.
Right now we’re in the beginning of the Presidential Primary Campaign and we’re already talking about who can or cannot win in a General Election that is over a year away. Apple’s stock has been riding a roller coaster because shareholders expected them to sell more iPhones this year than they had (in spite of the fact that they are gaining market share at the expense of Samsung).
What does this focus on victory and hatred for losing (and losers) do to us?
It makes us risk-averse. It makes us frame every choice in the context of, “Well, I don’t want to try that if I might fail.”
Might fail? How about this – you will fail. Starting a business? Most businesses fail within the first three years. Want to be a professional baseball player? There are precisely 1,200 jobs available on the 40-man rosters of MLB teams. Most recording artists never make back the cost of recording their albums.
Let’s go back where I started. There were 47 major studio releases for this summer’s movie season. Out of 47, only 24 of those were received at all positively by critics. Of those 24, there were 18 that had a solidly positive response. That’s a little better than 1/3. In baseball, like all sports, the system is set up to guarantee failure for the majority of teams, if you consider the baseline for success to be entry into post-season play. There will be 8 teams out of 30 who will make that cut. That’s a little over 25% that succeed and 75% who fail. If MLB was run under the old rules we’d have 2 successful teams (and some would argue that’s still pretty much the case, since only 2 teams can play for the championship).
My point is failure isn’t an anomaly. It’s the norm. No matter what you do, your odds of failure far surpass your odds of success.
You can either do what most people do when faced with this reality – close up shop and quit trying – or recognize that failure is an integral component of success. A batter in baseball sees about 2,000 pitches in a regular season. If he’s an average player he’ll succeed in hitting about 25% of those, which means he’s going to fail roughly 1,500 times a season. Imagine that. You go to work every day for six months knowing you’re going to suck wind 3/4 of the time at your job.
Now, step back for a moment and realize this is actually how your life really works. With each pitch you don’t connect with, if you’re mindful, if you’re paying attention and IF you’re open to what’s unfolding before you, you learn. A batter in baseball learns which pitches a pitcher is going to use to try to get him out, and which approaches he’s taken to the plate did not work, and uses that information to improve the next time up.
Does that mean you’ll fail less? No. It means you won’t fail the same way.
If your objective is to never fail, you’ll never succeed.