Success is Failure, Failure can be Success

The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that
whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.

~Vince Lombardi (1913-1970, U.S. football coach, symbol of single-minded determination to win)

The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure.

~Sven Goran Eriksson

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

When we see a performance by a master, what we don’t see is all the blood, sweat and tears that often go into creating that performance. And I’m not talking just music. A book is a performance. Creating a great meal is a performance. The raising of a child is a performance of sorts. We don’t see the hours–and often years–of effort it takes to create these things, we don’t see the sacrifices made, the blunders blundered. We see the performance and the performers in the present moment and they seem complete and whole and somehow disconnected from their past, because Now is the only time that really exists. Without contemplation, we can’t see all the failures that had to occur before mastery manifested. Without failure somewhere along the way, a successful performance simply isn’t possible.

It’s this ability to fail, to do things incorrectly, that is a cornerstone of being human. In fact, it’s built into our very DNA. Consider the following words by biologist Lewis Thomas from his superb little book The Lives of a Cell:

The capacity to blunder slightly is the true marvel of DNA. Without this special attribute, we would still be anaerobic bacteria and there would be no music.

Perhaps the best words of wisdom on this topic come from master musician Gustav Holst, composer of The Planets, and First Suite in Eb for Military Band among many other great pieces of music. He had this to say about amateur music making:

If a thing is worth doing at all, it is worth doing badly.

Anyone who has ever been a beginner at something like music can see the truth in this statement. No matter how “talented” the musician/writer/athlete/chef/gamer, there is a time at the beginning of the journey when the results are simply terrible. Failure at some level is a given. This can be an incredibly liberating realization. This understanding will allow us to embrace the badness we will experience when beginning a task. It’s a requirement because it’s the awareness of what makes a thing “bad” and why it is “bad” that will allow for growth and learning. This is the crucial part though, isn’t it? To be aware of the badness is the first step towards addressing it, changing it into something better.

To embrace the intellectual truth of the necessity to blunder isn’t all that hard. It’s an idea that makes sense to most of us. It’s much more difficult to live that knowledge and accept the inevitability of failure. That’s the true challenge: to accept and seek out that which pushes you to the point of failure, and then to rename “failure.” Call it “learning” and you turn the dross into gold. If you’re paying attention, to fail is to learn.

Want to learn more about the best ways to practice? Get an e-mail with a discount code when The Practice of Practice is published (June, 2014). To learn more about the book, check out a sample from The Practice of Practice.

I’ll end this with yet another quote, this time from Buddhism. It is this:

The obstacle is the path.

 

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