Definition of Failure
WHAT DOES WEBSTER HAVE TO SAY?
From Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary we are told that failure is….”a lack of success, or a falling short.”
Well, that certainly seems a bit demoralizing and negative, doesn’t it? And that, unfortunately, is how many people view failure. Now consider these thoughts on the subject of failure.
Or how about this one:
VALUABLE LESSONS FROM BASEBALL
It should come as no surprise to any of you who have followed me that I love baseball. My earliest memories are of a little five year old in Tacoma, Washington, waddling around the house with his baseball glove and ball. For as long as I can remember I have loved the game, and some of my most important lessons have come from baseball.
I was determined to be the best pitcher in baseball. I was going to learn from the greats of that time, like Bob Gibson and the Sandy Koufax, and I would mow down the opposition on my way to fame and fortune. I was also determined to be accepted by my peers, not a small goal since I was scrawny and shy, and not accepted by the jocks in my peer group.
I watched the “Saturday Game of the Week” and concentrated on what each pitcher was doing. I heard words like “paint the black” and I heard that pitchers did not have to be huge and throw 100 mph; they simply needed to have the ability to place the ball at a pre-determined spot. A properly placed pitch, knee-high on the outside corner of the plate, was as effective as a curve ball that would break two feet.
My goal determined, I set about learning that skill. I painted a strike zone on a cement wall, walked off sixty feet, and then threw hundreds of pitches at spots in the strike zone. I did that day after day, month after month, until my muscle control and mental signals combined and I was able to throw a baseball precisely where I wanted to throw it.
Did I fail? Oh my goodness yes! One of my first high school games I faced a kid from Mt. Tahoma High School. His name was Ron Cey, and ten years later he would be known as “The Penguin” in the Major Leagues. That first time that I faced him, I snuck two fastballs by him. On the third pitch, he hit a line-drive that barely cleared my glove as I reached above my head. That line drive just kept rising and finally came to earth 420 feet from home plate. A three-run homer that taught me much about humility, and also sent me back to that cement wall to work on my delivery.
Playing sports is a wonderful lesson in failure. The best hitter in Major League baseball history failed six times out of every ten times to the plate, and he made the Hall of Fame!
OBSERVATIONS FROM TEACHING
This is a true story; there is no way I could make this up.
I had a student once who received an “A” from me on a difficult assignment. It was a well-deserved grade because it was obvious that she had spent many hours doing it, going above and beyond what was expected.
A couple days later I got a call from her mother who requested a conference regarding that assignment. After we had sat down, the mother explained that she believed her daughter deserved an “A+”, and that anything less than an “A+” would be a failure for her daughter. Never mind that our school did not even have A+ in the grading system; this mother was adamant that I change the grade.
I refused to do so, and then felt compelled to caution her about the message she was sending to her daughter.
It has been twenty years since that incident and I still think of it often.
I have had countless students who, upon receiving a poor grade, gave up trying, and of course I have had countless students who constantly believed that they did not deserve to fail, that they had done everything in their power to do well, and it wasn’t fair that they were being singled out.
I will tell all of you the same thing I told my students: we all fail! Now what are we going to do about it?
Do you learn from failure?
REALITY CAN BE A BITTER PILL
I never made it to the Major Leagues. My shoulder gave out my junior year in college and that was the end of my baseball dream. Hundreds of hours of throwing that baseball against the cement wall were all for naught.
Did I fail?
Some would say yes, and I respect their opinion. However, that 5’10” kid who weighed 145 lbs. played four years of high school baseball and almost three years of college ball. Do you know what percentage of high school athletes go on to play college ball in an NCAA school? In baseball it is 6.1%! So in 1966 I was among that 6.1% that competed at a major college level.
Did I fail?
An interesting question for sure. Along the way there were many individual “failures.” Every single time an opposing batter got a hit against me I failed. Every single time I walked an opposing batter I failed. In not making it to the pros I failed……but…..for me, true failure would have been in not trying!
With every hit by an opposing player I learned. With every walk given up I learned, and yes, when my shoulder could no longer throw a baseball, I learned.
And that is what life is about!
Chat with me awhile
THERE IS NO SHAME IN FAILURE
Let’s stay with the baseball analogy for awhile longer. Let us say that I played in, conservatively, 100 games during my career. If I averaged five innings of pitching per game, that is 500 innings, and at three outs per inning that means I recorded 1,500 outs during my time on the mound.
1,500 times I was successful! I can live with that!
It really comes down to one’s point of view. If lack of success is viewed as failure, then let’s face it, we are all failures in life.
If, however, lack of success is considered a learning tool, then there are no failures.
Show me a person who gets knocked down and keeps getting back up, and I’ll show you a person I want as my companion in life. Show me a person who doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit, and I’ll go into battle with that person every single day.
In every aspect of life, there is a positive spin and a negative spin, and each person determines what that spin will be. I have known many who viewed themselves as failures from the moment they rose from bed in the morning to the moment they returned to that bed at night, and it is a sad sight to see.
I like to hang with the winners, and a winner, to me, is one who does not give up; despite the adversity, and despite the setbacks. They square their shoulders and keep moving forward in life, and every obstacle is viewed as an opportunity.
Life is too short to wallow in a cesspool of self-fabricated defeat. Man was created to soar with the angels; we were not created to slither beneath the rocks of shame, self-loathing and defeat.
Which one are you? If you are the former, then polish those wings and find new heights. If you are the latter, then pick up that damn baseball and keep throwing it against the wall until throwing strikes becomes a habit for life.
2012 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)