Posted by Tim Bryce on February 27, 2017
BRYCE ON LIFE
– Failure is something we don’t handle very well as a species.
Failure is something we don’t handle very well as a species. You would think we would be better at it since we all experience some form of failure in our lives, from major blunders to minor snafus. We fail due to errors in judgment, unforeseen circumstances outside of our control, or perhaps we underestimated the amount of risk involved, or we were just plain wrong about something. We have all failed at something and I cannot imagine life without failure. Yet, we don’t seem to know how to handle it with tact and dignity. We even go so far as to cover-up our failures or blame others as opposed to acknowledging defeat. Admitting failure is a bitter pill to swallow, yet I have more respect for the person who admits and takes responsibility for his failings than someone on the sideline who does nothing but jeer or condemns the failure. Nobody should be made to suffer embarrassment from failure if they have put their best foot forward. There is no disgrace.
I’m certainly not suggesting we encourage failure, but we should at least understand it. For example, I’ve noticed people today tend to be sore losers. This may be because of our competitive nature and our inclination to try and win at all costs. Consequently, we do not tend to be gracious in defeat. In contrast, Abraham Lincoln shocked everyone after losing his first Senate race by appearing at the victory party of his opponent and offered a genuine hand of friendship and support. This did not go unnoticed and was well remembered by his opponent who fought for his candidacy years later. From this perspective, Lincoln teaches us that you are not going to lose all of the time, and it might not be wise to burn bridges to those who might assist us later on.
I’ve also noticed some people become so obsessed with the possibility of failure they go into a state of paralysis whereby they prefer doing nothing as opposed to risking the sting of defeat. This is a tragedy as it represents the arrest of progress.
I think the biggest problem with failure is that we do not recognize it as a natural part of life. For every success, there is usually one or more failures not far behind. To illustrate, I believe bankruptcies have quadrupled since the 1980’s, probably due to some rather liberal bankruptcy laws. If you have declared bankruptcy, you may have saved yourself, but I can guarantee you someone else is suffering a loss, such as the creditors you owe money to. If we establish a system where it is beneficial to fail, people inevitably will (see Murphy’s Law).
I tend to believe in the old axiom, “If you make 51% of your decisions correctly, you will be a success.” In other words, you don’t have to bat 1.000 to be considered a success, just stay ahead of your mistakes. Frankly, it’s a matter of carefully picking your fights and contests.
Perhaps Rudyard Kipling put the best spin on failure in his famous poem, “If”; to paraphrase:
“If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!”
Perhaps the only thing we do worse than failure is success.
Also published with The Huffington Post.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 40 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at email@example.com
For Tim’s columns, see: timbryce.com
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