September 10, 2010

A Successful Failure

One day there are going to make a movie about my life. It is going to be called a A Successful Failure. I don't know which actor I want to play me but I can tell you that it won't be Tom Cruise, Gary Busey or Mickey Rooney. Nor will it be Brad Pitt, Nicholas Cage, Ed Norton, John Wayne or Frank Sinatra.

Don't hassle me about mixing dead actors in with those who are alive. I am well aware who is on the list and who isn't. Truth is that I don't really care about the movie. It is nothing more than a silly trick that I use to help me with writing. You see, five minutes ago I was having trouble getting this post started so I needed to find a way to break through a small block. And no it wasn't because I was lost in thought about cleveland or parts/people related to cleveland. That would have made me laugh.

So let's talk about the inherent contradiction of describing someone as a successful failure. It sounds crazy doesn't it, at least from a cursory glance. What the hell does it mean to be a successful failure. Would that describe some loser who has a proven track record of failing at whatever it is they try to do. Well, if you have a limited imagination or are simply unwilling to open your mind than it might sound that way.

But it is not how I would define it. I see a successful failure as a person who has overcome some challenge or challenges and is now...successful. Because the reality is that we all fail at something. Could be school , work, relationships, whatever. We all fail. The question is not whether you will fail but what happens when you do, because sooner or later you will.

My kids know that under certain conditions I will accept failure. If you try your hardest and fail that is ok. Obviously no one wants to fail, but there is a world of difference between failing because you didn't try and failing because you just couldn't get it done.

But that doesn't really cover being a successful failure. Because the way I see it history is replete with examples of successful failures, ya know that story about Einstein failing math comes to mind. But when I think of successful failures I always come back to Thomas Edison and some of his quotes about failure:
I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.

Many of life's failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

Nearly every man who develops an idea works at it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then gets discouraged. That's not the place to become discouraged.

Show me a thoroughly satisfied man, and I will show you a failure.

I love those because they make sense to me. They fit my nature. And they are well suited for talking to the kids about life. I want to raise children who don't fear failure. I have failed at some things before, but every time I did I took something away from it. Every time I did I learned something and I took what I learned and applied it to my life.

Many people look at Michael Jordan as being the greatest basketball player of all time, but the man wasn't a great baseball player. His attempt to make it onto a big league team failed. That is a pretty good example of a person who is a successful failure.

At the end of the day I still come back to the same places. My interest in failure is really based upon how you respond to it. Do you let it crush your spirit or do you get back up and scream in defiance. As a parent I want children who aren't afraid of life and are willing to take risks.

And as a person it is not much different. Sometimes I have jumped off of the side of the mountain and done my best to learn how to fly as I fell. Sometimes I didn't quite figure it out and ended up in some horrific crashes. But every once in a while I found that formula and figured out how to make it work. Every now and then I flew.

So call me a failure if you like, I think of myself as being among that crowd of successful failures we mentioned above. Life isn't a sprint, it is a marathon and what you see today isn't necessarily proof of what you will see tomorrow. A successful failure isn't someone who allows others to define them. They do that themselves.

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