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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Failing doesn't make you a failure

I am glad that this election cycle is winding down.  In my 47 years, this election was probably the most hostile/tense election season we as a nation have even witnessed.  As with any elections there were winners and losers.  I think it's pretty clear the 'winners' and the 'losers' in this election cycle and analysis thereof is being repeated ad infinitum.  So, I won't focus on that, but it does lend itself to the following concept:

Failing doesn't make you a failure.  

For anyone who has ever had a significant failure in their life such as:
  • Falling short of being elected.
  • Failure in marriage.
  • Falling of short of winning the big game.
  • Not getting the promotion/losing your job.
  • Failing in school.
  • Broken friendships.
it is hard to separate a particular failure or failing from the overall sense of being a failure.  It is akin to shame vs. guilt.  Shame focuses on self (and has a sense of at least semi-permanence), guilt focus on poor choices (and can be more passing).  Similarly, labeling oneself as a failure, implies feeling broken in a permanent way, whereas noting a failure implies limited--in scope and permanence--damage.

If one is labeled a failure, he or she has effectively had their successes negated or overwhelmed by the label.  If one is said to have failed, it is feasible that their successes before are still respected and that their chance of success after is recognized.

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It is easy to say tell someone who is in the midst of a particular failure that they aren't a failure, but it can harder for the to accept.  What they've got to realize is that 
  • Everyone has failings in their life.  After all, if that weren't the case, why would we have the need for a Higher Power (God)?
  • Some of the people we consider 'successful' failed time and again before they hit on their life's success. Successful people who have failed:
    • Henry Ford went broke 5 times before succeeding at Ford Motor Company
    • Bill Gates dropped out of college and failed in his first business (Traf-O-Data) before starting arguably the most successful software company (Microsoft).
    • Oprah Winfrey was born poor to a single teenage mom, was abused as kid and became a teen mom--child died in infancy--before she landed a radio job which ultimately led to her billion dollar production company.
  • Not everyone wins 'the big game/election/promotion', but that doesn't nullify their accomplishments.
    • Ernie Banks never made it to the World Series, but his Hall of Fame induction gives lie to the concept that this made him a failure.
    • Tim Tebow had limited success in the NFL, but no one can take away his Heisman Trophy and National Championship at Florida.  Additionally, he has carved out success in broadcasting.
    • Adlai Stevenson is remembered by many as losing the Presidency to Eisenhower twice, but no one can take away his time as Governor of Illinois, Ambassador to the U.N. and his efforts in making a JFK presidency possible. 
  • That it is okay to visit (mourn) a particular failure/failing, but it is not okay to live there.  Visiting or mourning failure appropriately and moving forward can strengthen us.  Living in failure can be very disabling or debilitating. 
  • Our faith can be a strong guide, however, we are not born with an individual instruction manual.  Our Higher Power and true friend and family in our lives understand that we will at times not make the best choices of ignorance or maybe even hubris.  That doesn't mean that we are stupid or a bad person, it just means we don't always have all the answers.  See my post on the Fog of War and Decisions/Choices.  
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One final note: We've all heard the term 'narcissist', but I'm convinced of a concept that I call 'negative narcissism'.  The idea being that a negative narcissist finds it easier to live in the concept of being a failure than having a more balanced view of their lives.  If you label yourself as a failure, it makes it easier not to accept responsibility for individual failings.  It also, makes it easier to justify not taking steps to try to succeed.   After all, if you are a failure (or destined to it), then well, you couldn't help it anyway and why bother trying?

Anyway, whether our candidate or team wins or loses, they don't have to be considered a failure.  If a particular endeavour in our life ends in success or failure, we can own a failing, but we don't have to own being a failure.  Just some post election musings.

-- Rich