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Failure as a Goal

My father, who worked for the federal government his entire adult life, said one time that man rises to his highest level of incompetence.  It sounds like a negative comment but in reality there is some truth to the statement.

Growth can only occur through failure.  Like it or not, we learn best by doing.  That means that we can only become ‘experts’ through the application of knowledge.

On a side note, I’ve come to reexamine the definition of ‘expert’.  In reality, an expert is someone who knows more than you do in a particular subject.  He may only know ‘marginally’ more than you do.  Greet experts with caution.

Back to failure.  You can read, attend lectures, watch videos, and contemplate all the cumulative knowledge rolling around in that big cavity on your shoulders but until you actually apply your book knowledge you’ll never really know, in an empirical sense, how things work.

There’s also environmental circumstances.  In the perfect book world things may be quite simple.  In the ugly real world, things are confusing, convoluted, and sometimes dangerous.  Hence a big difference between theoretical and operational practices.

I’m not saying go out and do things that are dangerous and potentially life threatening with the expectation of failure that could lead to bodily harm!  But failure should be expected, accepted, and planned for in the course of learning.

It might be an exaggeration to suggest I like failing but I do like trying new things, which in itself, means a lot of opportunities to fail.

I’ve mentioned before, I had a business partner/friend who one day turned to me in anger and told me I was a failure.  Things never worked out as I planned.  I was astonished.  I didn’t consider myself a failure.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I thought I was adaptable, creative, and persistent.  To me, the definition of successful.

In hindsight, I realize he considered failure as a tragic disappointment to be avoided at all costs.  Any deviation from his original plan was unacceptable.  To me, a plan was something you started with until you had new and better information to re-evaluate.  In essence, he was a motor  boater heading straight toward his goal and I was a sailor tacking along the way.

The difference is expectations.

In his case if his expectations were not met to the letter there was disappointment, anger, and frustration.  In my case, I don’t have any hard and fast expectations of ‘how’ were going to get there just that we get there.  As a result, If things aren’t working out exactly as planned, we tack.  I’m not disappointed, angry, or frustrated.  Nor do I belittle myself about my failure.

The difference after all these years; my friend is financially secure basically doing the same thing he’s been doing for the last 30 years.  He also is a perpetual bachelor.  I have made a lot of money, lost a lot of money.  I have had 5 careers and counting.  I have diverse skills and talents.  I have a loving committed relationship with an extraordinary, adaptable woman and two beautiful children.  Of all these, I value the skills, experiences, and memories more than I value looking good to others and being right.

I doubt either one of us would trade places for any amount of money…and that’s ok.

I firmly believe ‘trying’ is more important than succeeding.  If you rarely fail you are either not trying new things or are not trying hard enough.  Don’t take criticism too hard, chances are your critics are too scared to get out there and take these same risks themselves.

Another important aspect of failing.  Failure is an absolute undeniable truth that cannot be mistaken.  If you try something and it doesn’t work out, you can definitely with out a doubt put it behind you, lock the door, throw away the key, and never ever have any question about your decision.  Success is less conclusive, more prone to gray areas and nuances.  You may be good at something and successful at it but absolutely hate the skill.  Making the decision to stick with it or move on to something new is tough.

In essence, failure is growth.  Without it life is nothing more than a bland expanse of time like eating a meal without color or flavor.  Don’t worry, the important success’s will come and they will be sweeter in the end.

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3 comments to Failure as a Goal

  • Jay Pea

    If failure is the path to wisdom, I must be a genius! I agree with your thoughts. We live in a success driven society that does not have much room for failure. I do think, however, that adventurers and entrepreneurs are familiar with the rewards of failure, even if it hurts a bit. All the more reason to push forward in your endeavor. Just think of all the stories you will have to tell your grandchildren when your old and gray! Nice post.

    Be well. JP

  • I need to file this into my mind.
    Thanks to you all for encouraging me to continue despite the recent set-back, which, now that the fog of feeling like a failure has lifted, I realise was actually an experience in putting into practice what I have learned, and being able to learn more. Both were positive experiences.

    Standing by on 16.

  • big cheese

    Good to hear from you JP. No one ever question the value of empirical knowledge. You get burned, you don’t put your hand back in the same flame, maybe another flame…but at least not the same one.

    Ahhh, Life is Short, Art is Long, and the World is Big. What can I say? What fun would it be if everything were easy?

    All our best,

    JC & Fam