Monday, April 22, 2013

Failure—A Good Word

           I want the word “failure” to be a good one in the Edge household. I want my kids to fail. I want them to fail because:
  • They cannot succeed without failure
  • They cannot aspire to higher things without failure
  • Without failure, they are playing life too safely

            Let me clarify. I don’t mean I want my kid to bring home a failing grade on his or her report card… unless… he or she has aspired to take a course so challenging, failure is a possibility. In that case—give it a shot!
            It took me a lot of years to learn this lesson. I think it truly hit home my junior year in high school. My dad had always told me when I was playing point guard in the seventh grade to fearlessly drive to the goal.
            I told him that I did not want to. I was afraid the opposition would steal the ball.
            “Let them steal it,” he said. “Make your mistakes now.”
            I would not listen. Too often, I was tentative. This anxiety came back to haunt my junior year in football. I was tentative during fall practice and our two preseason scrimmages. As a result, I was benched the first two games of the season.
            That benching changed my life.
            To a sixteen year old, the worse thing that can happen, the most embarrassing thing that can happen, is to be the starting quarterback of your hometown team and be benched.
            Somewhere during that two-week period I remembered feeling this sensation, “The worst has happened. It can only get better from here.”
            Strangely enough, it took failure to relax me. Our team lost those two games. The third game I was named the starting quarterback. I was never nervous again. Consequently, instead of playing tentatively, I played assertively and with confidence. I have always been grateful for that failure.
            The French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “Our duty as men is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.” Reflecting on that statement, one writer noted that most people who have achieved greatness died falling short of their aspirations.
            I want my kids to set high goals. If they meet them, I want them to set even higher goals. If they fall short, I want them to be grateful for the chance and to recalibrate. But I always want them to aspire.
            If I want that for my kids, I want that for you too.
            In “Apollo 13”, Gene Krantz famously says, “Failure is not an option.” Okay, when you are returning astronauts from the moon, failure is not an option—I get it. However, in much of the rest of life, failure is an option.

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