Failure : Success Ratio

Imagine a road sign ahead of you that says, “Success: 10 miles ahead.” After traveling for a little longer another sign confronts you, “Failure ahead.” Would you turn back like most would? Or continue moving forward knowing that you’ll reach success and that you may have not traveled the full 10 miles yet?

I am naturally nervous about, what I call, the long game. It might be the commitment to any one thing that gives me the heebie-jeebies. Maybe the boredom of an idea keeps me from the investment of long-term pursuits. My curiosity possibly compels me to a high turnover rate of ideas and an inability to stick with a singular goal. These elements combined with a distinct lack of patience, discipline, and self-control makes playing the long game a little more difficult for me.

That said I recognize the supreme importance of the long game, though I know I’m not the authority of long-game endeavors.

Let me give examples of short-game ventures first:

  • I apply to a job and expect or deserve an interview.
  • I quickly accumulate credit card debt to increase my credit score.
  • I go to the bar expecting to take a girl home with me that night.
  • I expect to write a high-quality book this month.
  • I go to McDonald’s expecting sustenance.

Short-game pursuits are more likely to end in unproductive failures; failures that you cannot bounce back from because you were vaguely invested in an easy, replaceable, and simple plan that you can easily jump ship on.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…. I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” – Teddy Roosevelt

I promote the inherent good of failure.

When I was wrestling and exploring jiu-jitsu, my record was .500; I lost just as many matches as I won. I intended to travel Asia for at least a year – only lasted eight months. I planned a trip to Longs Peak in the Rockies, but couldn’t summit due to an upset tummy. The longest I’ve held one job was eight months. I’ve been fired from five jobs.

Why is failure inherently good? If it were up to peer pressure and standard views of success, you would never create or attempt anything.

You and I have heard a million times, “You can’t do that,” “There’s no way you’ll make it,” “There are too many problems that you don’t know how to address,” or the all too common, sarcastic, flippant, “Pshh, good luck…”

Tell Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Twain, or the Thirteen Original Colonies that they would amount to nothing and I bet they produce some of the greatest human accomplishments.

Playing the long game increases the quality of life and improves the chances of success.

In the long game, one failure is a lot easier to tolerate and justify. Out of 1000 attempts one succeeds – the other 999 attempts are tolerated and justifiable. Out of ten attempts with zero successes, good luck sticking with something. With vision, relentless patience, passionate pursuit, success will result. Zero luck required.

A loss now results in improved chances of future success. The willingness to fail is an openness to learning. A simple concept? Absolutely. But we are immersed in a society that preaches immediate gratification and playing the short game. Successful, brilliant, strong people have been through failure. Our grandparents would agree that wisdom comes from failure, not success. By subjecting myself to the countless opportunities for failure, I also expose myself to these people with great knowledge. By immersing myself to this community of experienced failures, I learn.

“When you’ve got 10,000 people trying to do the same thing, why would you want to be number 10,001?” – Mark Cuban

“There’s no reason to have a Plan B, because it distracts from Plan A.” – Will Smith

“You can’t work three hours a week and make $100,000. Get rich quick doesn’t work. Crock pot mentality always defeats microwave mentality.” – Dave Ramsey

I’ll end with a story of the wisdom that my dad gave me. One summer in college, I sold roofs door-to-door for commission. I would go to the neighborhoods that hail, wind, or tornados struck particularly hard, knock on every door, and give my best pitch for why they needed new siding/gutters/roofing. After one difficult day of roof sales where I had locked in on zero new customers, Dad said, “Joshua, go knock on every door. All of them. Get as many doors shut in your face as you can. Once you get that one customer, you’ll be able to look back on the other 100 refusals with pride and money in your pocket.” Go chase a no. Get turned down. But be smart, patient and continue to work hard.


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