Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I’m reading email today from a friend and colleague who has just had some big plans fall through that involved me. His words, “We learned a lot as you often do when you fail at something.” Then he writes an apology to wit: “Sorry I wasted a lot of your time and efforts.” My reply – “You didn’t waste my time and efforts!”

Thirty-five years ago on a Saturday afternoon I sat in a seminar that was to become a launching pad for the work I’m engaged in, and listened to someone read a list of statements about FAILURE. It went something like this:
  • Failure is really our judgment of an experience.
  • Just as every year has a summer and a winter so we are going to have the varied experiences of life, and some of these we will judge as failures.
  • Failure says, “It’s too hard this way. There’s a better way. Look for it.”
  • Often the very change we want comes through seeming failure.
  • Many of life greatest successes and inventions have come through seeming failure
  • It could be said that you are being nudged off a side road of life that leads to the main road called success.

When I hear of failure I’m reminded of the following:

At the Battle of Gettysburg, the decisive fight on the left side of the Union Army flank was at a place called Little Round Top. The fact that the Union won at that decisive point was a series of failures by … the Union troop located there. A sizable number of their troopers on that little piece of ground were deserters who had been talked back into the fray by Colonel Joshua Chamberlain. It could be said that some other officer had failed to lead them properly, and Chamberlain seized the moment in the face of defeat to win their trust and was able to have them with him. Additionally, Chamberlain gave obscure orders to one of his Company Commanders, a Captain Morrill, who didn’t ask for clarification. Chamberlain’s failure to communicate and Morrill’s failure to inquire were factors in Morrill’s being in the right place and at the right time when Chamberlain really needed him. Not to excuse either, but it is an interesting and factual perspective. Sometimes plans just don’t work out, and yet produce some surprising opportunities.

Thirteen years ago I failed to wear the correct clothes for a walk on a beach and ended up slipping off boulders and breaking my left him. That one failure cost me dearly. Some of which I’m still paying for. But had I not broken my hip I wouldn’t have done a number of things: (a) slowed down my life enough to reflect on where I was going; (b) asked for help – something I tend to avoid; (c) started an active drive to deliver the Samurai Game® which led to serving thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations; (d) begun a practice in a powerful discipline – aikido; (e) rekindled a friendship with my long-ago roommate from college, John Gallagher.

All politics aside – had Al Gore won the presidency he probably wouldn’t have had the impact he has regarding world climate. Like Gore or not, he’s made a difference. More people are paying attention to what we’re all doing with our planet than they were back when he ran for the office … and that’s good.

In the latter years of the eighteenth century had William Wilberforce not failed again and again at getting his bill to abolish the slave trade before the English Parliament he never would have had the stamina to carry on for twenty-six years and make his dream a reality. (See Amazing Grace the movie).

Had Helen Keller not struggled to see, hear and speak the world would never have had the lessons that he life brought forth. In the end, she still couldn’t see – but she had vision; she still couldn’t talk – but she had a voice; she still couldn’t hear – but she listened. Her life gave others eyes, ears and mouths they otherwise would never have experienced.

A year and a half ago, I sat on a couch with my mentor, George Leonard. There he was, frail and aging. We both knew it. I asked him if he was still working on his last book. He looked me square in the eyes, thumped his chest with his right forefinger and said, “As long as there’s a spark of life in here I’ll be at it!”

We look today at the Winter Olympics Games going on in Vancouver, Canada. We see the youth of the world standing on podiums wearing bronze, silver and gold. Who we don’t see are those who slipped and fell and “failed”. Sure as I write these words, some of these people, these “failures”, will stand on podiums in their future, grasp their medals and raise their bouquets - OR they will inspire others to do so. Case in point – the skating coach from China at these Olympics: he was a miserable failure on the ice himself a few decades ago, laughed at and humiliated. Today, he’s a masterful example of a champion, coaching others to heights he could only imagine and setting a standard for his country and the rest of the world to take notice of.

So when it comes to failure – take another look. Then - get on with it.

PS – the Japanese word for CRISIS is KiKi and is composed of two kanji. One means danger or risk, the other means opportunity.

© Lance Giroux – Feb 2010

1 comment:

Karl Wolfbrooks Ager said...

Nicely done! I dig it...