Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fear of Failure

This evening, I ran five miles. To quote Forrest: "That's all I have to say about that."

I do have a lot to say about learning from failure, and not learning. I've touched on it a few times since starting this corner of the Web more than a year ago. Tonight, I give it full attention.

I know about failure because I have experience with it. When I was younger, I didn't understand how to deal with failure or disappointment. I rarely set my own expectations, but I did try hard to live up to others' expectations for me.

Case in point was my high school athletic career. As a junior golfer, I finished second a lot to a kid named Don Sargent. Don wasn't more gifted than I, just more disciplined and focused. I had good moments, but I finished behind him and an East Tennessee kid named Randy Wylie more than I should have. My confidence slowly sank, and my golf game regressed through college.

As a salesman in the 90s, I didn't always bring my "A" game every day. Sales is rough; you have to love it. I liked some of it, but again, lack of discipline and passion resulted in a slow meltdown.

Trust me, there are other examples in my life of mediocrity or falling short. What I finally learned over time is that it's OK to fail. In fact, failure can be good if you know what to do with it. I didn't for a time, but I do now.

Randy Pausch, in his Last Lecture (see last week's embedded video), talks about his own shortcomings and unfulfilled dreams. He addresses the meaning of walls in our lives. Eight years ago, I started dealing with those walls more directly. Over time, I started looking forward to walls. Lord knows, there have been plenty of them the last few years.

I am saddened by people I know and love who are unable to accept, acknowledge or face failure. They feel helpless. It gnaws at them. Rather than shrug off the setback and get back on the horse, they wonder what people must think about them. "I've failed. People must think I'm weak." Unable to cope, they believe they must sweep their shortcomings under the rug, lest someone know about it and spread the word. It's an untasty, unhealthy Pain and Anguish Stew.

I know about this because I've tasted it. When I figured out I could dream my own dreams and even hit life's reset button, I started on the road to a happier, richer life. I know I'm not a great salesman, but I do know how to communicate. I changed careers. I know I'm athletic, but that I'm not the greatest athlete; with work, though, I could improve. Voila, I started performing better in sports.

I am grateful to the Lord for this understanding, and I pray that the people I love come to a similar place.


pj said...

Nice honest piece, Jim. Now go out there tomorrow morning and redeem yourself.

Anonymous said...

Just remember that a task you may feel you have "failed" is extremely inspiring to others (especially me). I have a personal goal to run 1 mile without stopping....not there yet.

Thanks for the blog- I have been praying for your family.


ChuckEastNashville said...

Jim, Cathedral softball taught us plenty about defeat, ha ha. Like you I had a pretty good high school running career, and parlayed that into some college success. Jack Nicklaus was observed as having the same demeanor either winning or losing a golf tournament. He was a good sport and gracious regardless of result.