Posts Tagged 'failure'

Party Failure

Courtesy of


The headline above a recent article from grabbed my attention immediately. Having fallen short a lot, as we all do, I wondered what premise the author may be starting from.

Is it better to forget it?

I’ve seen some say so, but that invites more mistakes and misguided decisions. Blowing off unsavory outcomes could lead us to repeat the same action in search of a different result. As my pastor and mentor Steve Clifford once told me, “Sometimes wisdom is not putting your hand back in the fire.”

Really, though, who throws a party when things go wrong?

The key is to avoid mourning for an extended period or being possessed by shame and disappointment. Even the author admits what is occurring is “a wider appreciation that failure is an inherent part of innovation and taking risks,” an undercurrent of acceptance the prime demands of this web-enabled generation — better and faster — require more defeats than victories.

What is actually happening, then, is the abolition of perfectionism.

The idea is to allow people to come up short and do so openly, to brush aside the embarrassment and take another shot…and another….and another…and another, if necessary.

Further, encouraging people to make an effort engenders a spirit of cohesiveness, in which it is much less “easy for us to point fingers, to find blame, to gleefully critique the things that went wrong,” as Seth Godin writes in his new book Poke the Box. When everyone is allowed to swing for the fences, everyone is going to strike out more — but everyone will support each other more, too.

We walk a fine line in creating a culture which accepts failure “just right.”

Facilitating experimentation — giving people the freedom to explore uncommon concepts and create based on them — inevitably leads to dead ends and discouragement from time to time. Become too lax and the whole venture goes down the tube without any wins.

Making the most of undesired results, squeezing every lesson about the wrong (and right) out for future application, expands the possibility for a major breakthrough — one that will, with persistence and consistency, certainly arrive.

Then we throw the party.

After all, there is a time to celebrate failure: when we’ve succeeded.

Fragile Focus

Courtesy of

“You’re going to screw up and make a mess.”

She was right.

I did.

My sister-in-law got in my head.

I had been alone for several days while she and my brother attended a funeral in our hometown, cooking and cleaning and caring for the the dogs without anyone to talk to.

Though I enjoy solitude, extended periods to myself invariably lead my mind to find entertainment in practicing random skills. This time, I settled on the chef’s trick of flipping eggs in the pan.

I’ve watched a lot of Food Network. How hard could it be?

I gave it a shot and got close.

I kept at it. By the sixth or seventh attempt, I could execute the basics with consistency. After that, it would be more remarkable if I failed than if I succeeded. Having added this little party favor to my cooking arsenal, I set about to show it off.

I called for attention.

I set up.

I heard those eight words.

I got nervous.

I flubbed the flip.

The meal ended up as delicious as it would have been, if a little less aesthetically pleasing.

I could only think of how easily I became rattled.

Why does new-found confidence disappear so suddenly?

How many of these little battles do we lose each day?

Our brains light up with a fresh idea and energy surges through us.

Enthusiasm bursts to the surface and we get excited to share our good news.

We tell someone and the reaction deflates us.

We hunch our shoulders in defeat and return where we came from.

We lose focus.

Here’s what happened in the kitchen: I heard her voice just as I readied my wrist for the flip and my concentration vanished. I became aware of the consistency of the egg. I noticed my grip on the pan seemed off.

Was the heat high enough?

Was it too early?

Was the right amount of oil in the pan?

I was thinking about everything but snapping my hand through the motion I knew worked and had performed several times without a hitch.

When adopting a new habit or changing a belief, the margin for error is slim.

Just as with long division and the crossover dribble, development is a conscious process at the start. Every step is measured and done and remeasured and redone until it becomes aut-o-mat-ic.

Such diligence is the difference between “good” and “great” and “exceptional” and “excellent.”

It’s time-consuming and rigorous, for sure, but worth the effort.

In the meantime, we must hold on for dear life to our fragile focus.

Structural Failure




Failure has many components.

There’s misguided assumptions, shaky confidence and spotty motivation. Sometimes we fall into poor environments or questionable industries.

If we can identify what leads us to falling short, we can avoid making the same mistakes again.

My life is marked by three primary situations which have made the good I might do vanish into thin air:

1. Inflexible thinking
Everybody finds inspiration in the tales of perseverance. The American legend swoons over hard-driving entrepreneurs bucking the system and doing exactly as they please to create a fortune. The rags-to-riches story is marked by instances of bravery in spite of everything pointing in the opposite direction.

What I didn’t understand is the story is less about banging my head against a wall until it breaks through than it is about adaptability. I was inflexible in my methods, my actions and my mindset— and I’ve repeated the same result over and over again.

Being open to other possibilities is the first big step towards new results.

2. Living reactive
Emergencies happen. Always. It is impossible to move through life without being caught off guard from time to time. When shifting unexpectedly, I’ve tended to spend more time playing catch up than grabbing the bull by the horns. My inability to quickly recover into a forward-thinking mentality cost me precious time sunk in doubt and self-pity.

The ability to go with the flow is very, very important. Spiraling out of control is far too easy.

3. Weak commitment
This is the hardest answer. I have to ask a tough question of the person who lies to me most–the one in the mirror. Honestly assessing whether I took the steps needed to make the desired result occur is incredibly difficult. It requires stark honesty. Plus, I have to brace myself for the possibility I don’t like the person answering the questions very much.

Getting to that point, though, opens the door to big changes and better outcomes.

Failure is only a problem if it’s the end of the story.

It can be fatal, if allowed.

If embraced as a learning opportunity, much can be taken into the next experience.

With the right attitude, it can be the foundation for a masterpiece.



The Failure Soliloquy

3 Reasons for a Short Run



I think we can fall in love with our injuries.

When I was 9 years old, I remember having a fascination with playing hurt. Most of us go through a phase as kids where we want to wear band-aids all the time to garner sympathy and, well, I took it to a different level.

Every Saturday that winter, before the family headed over to the local arena, I would wrap an Ace bandage around my calf just high enough everyone could see the flesh-colored elastic poking out over the top of my grey soccer socks. I might have had a bruise one week, but nothing serious enough to trouble me more than a couple days.

In my mind, though, when I scored a goal or made a great pass I believed the crowd would notice the additional support I “required,” then applaud louder and exclaim “Oh, he’s even done it with a bad leg!” (I clearly had a misconception about how important the games were.)

Sometimes in life we reopen wounds instead of letting them heal.

The bleeding gash – whether physical or emotional – gives us a reason to be unable. We avoid taking a step into the next phase because we’ve got an excuse not to. If we can’t do something, we’ll never be damaged again or suffer worse, right?

There’s certainly a period required for mending. Occasionally, new experiences tear the skin again while that’s going on. I get that. A time will arrive when the scab falls off and the process is complete, though. The tissue recovers to an extent that allows normal function, maybe with a blemish left behind if the cut ran deep enough.

At some point, we’ve got to learn to appreciate scars.

They add up over a lifetime, for sure. The disfigurement, large or small, shows us we made an effort. It’s the mark of an event passing into history as opposed to being carried on into the present…and beyond.

The nicks and scratches remind me when I did something wrong.

They remind me when I did something right and took one on the chin anyway.

More than anything, they remind me I at least did something.


The Failure Soliloquy

3 Reasons for a Short Run

Wipe Away Failure

Top Posts, July 2010

It’s a few days late since the 31st of July fell on a Saturday, so I apologize.  Here are the most viewed posts for the past month:

5. 5 Steps to Your Best Apology

4. Running into God

3. Looking at Life from the Threshhold of Death

2. The Fear Soliloquy

1. 1 Difference Between “Trying” and “Doing”

The Failure Soliloquy

I misunderstood failure for many years.

In fact, for a long time I insisted it was the only thing I was afraid of. I was unable to stomach the thought of letting people down, terrified of being seen as flawed or exposed as inadequate.

Worried about making mistakes and losing face, I became obsessed with the fantasy of perfection. I struggled mightily to dissociate the event–falling short at anything–from my identity as a whole.

One question could always stop me in my tracks:

“If this fails, am I a failure?”

I have passed many nights staring at the ceiling playing out horrible ends only to fall asleep after sunrise and wake up hours later in no better frame of mind.

My confidence always balanced precariously, looking for a reason to deflate, searching for proof I wasn’t as good as I thought, almost begging to be shown how wrong I was to ever believe I could do something of consequence.

I asked myself if I was capable.

I wondered if I’d thought of everything.

I considered all the angles.

And, more often than not, I chose to avoid taking a chance when anything but certain victory was assured.

This is no way to live.

It took me a long time to get accept that.

I make every effort to help my students see failure differently, to measure success from within as opposed to using some arbitrary guidepost set up by someone else–to prize their own satisfaction more than another’s reaction.

In most cases, my own and theirs, understanding the good habits takes a back seat to the mentality that must change: the shift from defining a failure as fatal to framing it as an opportunity.

Dad has often said, “It’s only a failure if you don’t learn something.”

It took a string of public and private catastrophes for me to understand why.

The reason failure is such a powerful learning tool is because it happens so much more often than success. By being plentiful, it allows us the chance–if we accept it–to make another effort in a better fashion.

If we’re not careful, the celebration that accompanies achievement can give us a sort of amnesia about what made something work, it can hide imperfections for exposure at a later date. (Think of the roller coaster ride of the iPhone 4, in recent days.)

Failure, with the inherent pain that goes along with it, imprints itself on our conscious much easier. I can tell you more about the tough losses in my athletic career than I can great wins for one reason: heartbreak is incredibly powerful.

Visceral emotion has evolved to protect us from the harm of the savanna, to guard us from poor decisions that would get us killed. It is natural for us to have second thoughts every time we are in danger and, after falling short at something, the brain is keen to keep from experiencing the same harm.

Failure can be a springboard or a crutch, a motivation or an excuse.

When you fall it is easy to stay down, to resist the temptation to fight against gravity and rise again. The outcome of life is determined more by the times you stand up, everyone knows that.

Defeat can be denied or embraced, adopted like an ally or feared as a bully.

All I’ve chosen to do is make failure my friend.


The Fatigue Soliloquy

The Fear Soliloquy

The Focus Soliloquy

The Faith Soliloquy


Sorry, Life is Fair

You Can Rebuild You

3 Reasons for a Short Run

Sorry, Life is Fair

It’s time to redefine the concept of fair.

I read a blog post yesterday in which a young woman described the ugliness of jealousy. In it, she makes several strong points about the nature of envy and her method to reduce it.

She included the age-old statement from stern parent to whiny kid: “Life’s not fair.”

What if the opposite is true?

What if the string of outcomes that encompass a lifetime of experiences are all justified?

I decided to examine the one experience which induces an instinctive cry of “Unfair!” in my mind long since the situation has passed.

I toured the mental wasteland of my failed business.

Almost three years later, I still have a small voice in my head that points an accusing finger at the building my office was supposed to be in.  It is as though my inner child looks through the list of offenses–the promises, the delays and, ultimately, the separation–before screaming its anguish at the rest of my consciousness all over again.

The reaction shifts when viewed with the objectivity of hindsight.

How about seeing the story from a different perspective?

Naive business owner

  1. strives to do everything on the cheap,
  2. is afraid to seek out the opinion of experts or consider alternatives and
  3. makes a series of misguided decisions.

Understanding the root causes of a problem creates an entirely new set of conclusions. The three factors listed above created an environment ripe for a failure and, true to form, the business ran into the ground.

Did other things influence the outcome? Sure, but the lion’s share of blame can be found in that list.

Every result stems from choices–conscious or unconscious.

The finish may have been unsavory but, considering the surrounding circumstances, it was certainly fair.

Reality does not flinch when you moan about what you did not know or could not see. Like a calculator, it simply takes all the various inputs and adds them up to produce an answer.

Your good intentions carry no weight.

Your poor judgment does.

If you’re playing with fire, chances are good you’ll get burned.

Does this absolve others of guilt in your situation? No. You followed a certain path based somewhat on their actions. Believing in their integrity and truth–however sincere they actually were–may have pushed you one way or another.

You are the one who will trudge off with the baggage in the end, no matter if you’re mistreated by a lover or lied to by a CEO.

Unfortunately, you must reap the fruit of all you sow–even when it’s done with misplaced trust.

Sorry, life is fair.


“The test is where you make your money.”

Wipe Away Failure

Overcoming Disaster

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