I have come to an interesting perspective on failure; at least interesting to me. A few years ago I met a friend who signed his emails “Fail Fast”. Intellectually I got it; Edison had a number of failures (experiments) until he got to his light bulb. But…we get a lot of mixed messages about failure in our society.
- “Failure is not an Option”
- “Second Place is the First loser”
- “You are such a loser”
And then on the other side there are the folks taking their cue from Napoleon Hill:
- “Failure is not fatal, failure to change could be” ~ John Wooden
- “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” ~ Jack Canfield
- “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” ~ Winston Churchill
Which is the best perspective? I am reminded of a conversation I had recently with a friend bout “trying”. We were talking about the difference between people who “try” to do something and those that set out to do something. There is a difference; As Yoda from Star Wars says, “There is no try there is do or do not.”
So the paradox I have wrestled with is often encapsulated in the writing of Theodore Roosevelt in his essay,”The Man in the Arena.”
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
What has always struck me about this is the man in the arena may fail, but he also tried. So I have empathized with the man who tried. I have competed, I have won some and lost but I always felt I “tried my best”.
And then over a cup of Coffee with my friend Tom LaRotonda, it clicked. The man in the arena did not step into the arena with the idea he was going to “try”, he stepped in to win. He dared greatly. He may have failed. After it is over, they may say he tried. But the intention was not to TRY but to WIN. It is a subtle difference, but our intentions matter and the word we use to frame our intentions matter.