Tag Archives: failure

Why New Year’s Resolutions Are a Horrible Idea

A resolution is a choice, a decision. When you follow it, it is complete. When you fail, momentarily or repeatedly, it is broken. Once broken resolutions are easy to ignore and discard.

I’m making New Year’s aspirations this year.

Aspirations are desired future states. They are ideals to strive toward. And they do not break.

You can fail. You can fall short. And it’s still okay. In fact, it’s expected. The aspiration remains.

My 2013 aspirations:

  1. Continue and expand my meditation practice.
  2. Achieve a passable communication level in French.
  3. Write my next book. It’s been over 4 years since I’ve seriously worked on writing a book. But I think I finally have an idea worth pursuing.

So what are your aspirations?


Love to Fail

What makes someone creative, talented, brilliant?

The easy answer (the one that lets us all off the hook) is that some people are just lucky to have brains that can come up with those ideas.

From a New Yorker article, psychologist Dean Simonton argues that the real difference is perseverance. How many mediocre creations can you stand to produce? Because for every 20 mediocre tries you might get 1 that is superb. Try 200 times and you’ll taste greatness 10 times. Try 2000 and you’ll have a stellar career. Try 20 and you’ll blame your lame brain for your failure.

The difference between Bach and his forgotten peers isn’t necessarily that he had a better ratio of hits to misses. The difference is that the mediocre might have a dozen ideas, while Bach, in his lifetime, created more than a thousand full-fledged musical compositions. A genius is a genius . . . because he can put together such a staggering number of insights . . . that he almost inevitably ends up with something great.

[Greatness occurs] only if you chose to value it in terms of successes. If you chose to evaluate it in terms of how many times you failed . . . then you are bound to be unhappy . . . The game is what you catch, not what you spill.

For the record, this is my 486th blog post. Care to guess how many were superb? What are you willing to fail at today?

Immune to Failure

A woman described herself to me as being “immune to failure.” This woman is extremely successful. She has achieved multiple distinctions as the first woman to hold particular positions in her company. But she has also stumbled in her life and career.

So how does this immunity work?

What it isn’t:

  • Never failing.

What it is:

  • Seeing herself as a success
  • Never defining herself by a failure
  • Understanding that setbacks are normal
  • Looking for the opportunity in every situation
  • Assuming that success will come
  • Having fun

After Failure

So you failed. You made a big mistake. Now what?

There is a wonderful story I heard in grad school about a small paper goods company in Pennsylvania in the 80’s. One of the Vice Presidents of this company made an error that cost the company over $10,000,000 (a lot of money at that time). The CEO was asked after the fact why he didn’t fire the VP. His response, “I just spent $10,000,000 to train him. Why would I fire him?”

Not all bosses would take that view. So here are two questions.

  1. If you are the one who experienced failure, how do you clearly show (a) that you’ve learned and (b) what you’ve learned.
  2. If you are the boss (or the parent), how do you show the person who failed that it’s okay to (a) admit it and (b) discuss what they learned.

If you never make a big mistake it’s because you never take a big chance. If you make mistakes and cover them up you’re more likely to make them again and the people around you are more likely to make them as well.

Until You Fail

It’s not true that you’ll never know until you try. Or at least it’s only partially true. You can learn a lot by trying, but you can learn even more by failing. You can learn:

  • What causes failure
  • How to react to adversity
  • Who your real friends are
  • How passionate you are about what you do
  • Who you really want to be
  • That you can be imperfect
  • That you can bounce back

So it’s okay. Go fail. Even fail gloriously. Just make sure you learn along the way.

The Good Mistakes

When is the last time you bit your tongue? Or stubbed your toe?

These are minor mistakes within everyday practices. You eat and walk so much that these are somewhat inevitable. They come with the territory. They’re good.

When was your last car accident? Was it your fault? Be honest.

This is a dangerous mistake born of inattention to an important process. This isn’t good.

When was the last time you took on a task that was beyond your ability? You lacked the skill but had the enthusiasm. Or you stepped up because someone had to do it. Then you bombed. You made a big mistake. Maybe you had a huge public failure.

This is good. No. In fact, it’s great. It means you are giving yourself the chance to learn and grow and achieve something spectacular.

When we avoid the possibility of big mistakes we accept stasis. We accept that this is just how our world will be from now on. We’ve opted for predictability and comfort and accepted routine and boredom in the package.

When we try to avoid even the little mistakes it is as though we curl up in a fetal position and shut out the world. Fear is our guide.

Mistakes are good.

Mistakes are fantastic.

Mistakes let us know we are still alive. And trying. And thriving.