Thoughts on failure and success

I wanted to include a link from the L.A. Times on failure.

I believe the article is spot on.

Failure is not a foreign country for many of us, and we all have been tourists there, but we have also observed how a trip to that strange land affects those who return home. I can’t be alone in noticing that some of the most successful among a cohort of competitors, in any field or age, are those who were realistic and could learn in the face of failure. Some came from less than ideal backgrounds and/or families but had embraced the role of standard bearer for the future. All take a “risk”, a “chance”, and go for success without the certainty or guarantee of outcome. From Reminiscences of a Stock Operator, a traders canon from 1922, the line quoting an old time disciplined trader, Pat Hearne, “you can’t tell (un)til you bet” comes to mind. And the other half of that principle includes the reality that ‘you can’t bet if you lose all your  chips’.

So another ingredient for turning the composted remains of failure into sweet success includes the ability to  survive and persist. The capacity for resilience, for the trader begins with having a bankroll to continue, and  is sustained by the ability to learn, grow and continue a process without guarantees of success.

Fear of failure is not a sin. One can still pick oneself up, dust off, and get ready to try again. The anxiety of both the future, and of new attempts/ventures/trades/risks, can sharpen the mind and focus ones attention, assuming one does not engage in the destructive addiction of shame and recrimination.  Some remember the film, The Edge, featuring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin, wherein two men trapped in the deep woods, share a lesson taught by those who have survived, that many trapped in the wild can still die, of shame.

I think part of the issue of shame, in discussions about failure in success, come from cultural patterns about blame, recrimination and shibboleths about hubris. Hubris’ classical myth may include the one about  Icarus flying to the sky on wings fashioned with wax and daring to fly close to the sun. His father, Daedelus, survives, possibly because he was wiser thanks to lessons from less dramatic but no less traumatic failures during his own youth. Ambition, coupled to a life of disciplined and deliberate practice are at the heart of what we celebrate in the human condition. So, let’s celebrate the audacity to risk failure, hopefully tempered with a touch of Daedelan perspective and genuine humility. We’ve all known failure at some point, and whether you’re with the family at the end of a long day or under the gaze of a society watching your every twitter tweet or blog post, you’ll have friends, family and/or the public by your side if you accept each “teaching moment” with grace and magnanimity.

*(Daedelan in the modern sense refers to the convoluted and complicated. Rooted in the myth of Daedelus who was the architect of the Labyrinth which imprisoned the Minotaur, and which meant certain death for most sent within that prison. The concept evokes a capacity for wise, cunning inventiveness, restrained by the humility of fallibility, thanks to mythic hero Theseus’ ability to navigate the Labyrinth with a ball of string and overcome Daedelus’ ingenuity.)

Such dramatic and traumatic shortcomings carry the danger of causing a “survivor” of some failure to be “gun-shy” in the aftermath. We see a repeat of the failure again and replay it within our minds or lives, and that might be from a reluctance to confront with open-eyes and to ask ourselves “empowering questions” in a potential growth experience. Instead such “survivors” may engage in shame and recrimination and say to ourselves, “why are we so stupid”? This is not helpful, it is not empowering. Our minds are such that answers to every question we ask ourselves are generated and influence us, even if the “answer” or conclusions drawn aren’t helpful. We are at risk of surrendering to this addictive habit, tucked within shame and recrimination, and evade the real work of answering the question, “What is the solution? What can we do now, going forward? How can I help move this or myself forward?”

And so those are the questions I leave you with. This was just a starting point.

The Advantage of Falling Short, by Michael D’Antonio, July 14, 2002


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