Sunday, January 01, 2012

Why We Fail

I'm pretty good at failing. I have a long successful history of it. I'm arguably an expert at this point. Though I think I am losing my touch. Recently some things in life have actually gone well. And one or two of my efforts have seen positive results. Probably a fluke. But, anywho....

Along my way in life, I've discovered several reoccurring factors that explain my outstanding track record of failures. Perhaps somebody can benefit from my notes and experiences. But you should avoid them at your peril. They may disrupt failures if they're avoided.

First, ours is a generation that expects and accepts failure. I was told at an early age that everything I wanted to do was impossible. When I was a kid, I wanted to sing. I was told I had the heart of a singer but not the voice. When I was older, I wanted to run in local races. I was told I'd never even finish. Later: backpack across Germany. Impossible. Become a comic book writer? Impossible. Sci-fi author? Impossible. Play guitar? Impossible. Start my own Internet company? Impossible. Spot the trend? Every time I wanted to do something, I was told I couldn't do it. I wasn't supported. Wasn't encouraged. And best of all: I listened to everyone who told me I couldn't do what I really wanted to do. I accepted it. And I kept listening for most of my life. Thanks to that habit, I was finished before I even started.

The second factor that contributes to a life of failure: unreasonable expectations. When I wanted to play guitar, I thought a couple of lessons would put me on par with Jimi Hendrix. When I wanted to backpack through Europe, I didn't put an ounce of planning into it, as if the whole trip would unfold for me, without any effort or trouble. And when I wanted to start a company, my market plan consisted of "build it and they will come." How much (if any) of that was reasonable? I hadn't even hiked across a city block, let alone a foreign nation. I might as well have planned for my own space launch from the back yard.

Another reason that we achieve plenty of failures: we're soft. We don't want to do anything remotely difficult. When I wanted to play guitar, I didn't like what it did to my fingers. You know, that whole painful blister stuff. I didn't even try to get past that. I spent years trying to "get fit." But the soreness from running or working our once or twice defeated me each time. I didn't really try to get past that, either. It was so much easier to just quit. Time after time. Resolution after resolution. I didn't push myself. I just said things I'd learned from an early age: "You can't do it," and "Just give up," and "It's impossible." So much easier to eat wrong, live wrong, and behave wrong. I was always soft. I always took the easy way out. Never challenged myself. And accepted my own self-imposed limits.

The final reason we fail is ironic: we fear failure. We're terrified of it. Throughout our lives, we avoid failure at all costs. Rather than start my own Internet company and risk failure, I did exactly nothing. Perhaps I would have failed, but perhaps I would have succeeded. Now, I'll never know. I just accepted defeat without putting up a fight. I feared rejection letters from editors, so I never tried to become a writer. I feared I wouldn't get into a good college. So I didn't bother trying for good grades or academic excellence. Easier to be average by doing the least I could do. Those voices of the past coming back to haunt me again and again: You can't. Give up. Impossible. How many times did I listen to my own fears? I'll tell you: every time. Most of my entire life.

And that is why we fail. By accepting failure for ourselves and promoting it in others. 

Then, think of those around us, in our lives. How often do we support somebody's dreams? How many times do we take part in their challenges, if only to move them a little further on their journey? How many times do we honestly want them to succeed when we've spent so much time failing?

What would happen if I fought for my dreams? What would happen if I supported somebody else's dream? That's my question and my challenge for 2012.
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