The other day when I was eating lunch alone I thought of these questions:
- Is failure a prerequisite to success?
- I mean do you have to fail first to succeed later?
- And if you do have to fail, how bad does the failure have to be?
- If you succeed the first time, have you learned anything?
- Is the term failure subjective?
So that got me asking more questions –
- Did Tiger Woods ever fail at golf?
- Did Wayne Gretzky ever fail at hockey?
- Did Bill Gates ever fail at business?
I had a friend in High School who was a 4.0 straight-A student. She was what some experts call – profoundly gifted. She said she never studied once in her life and that pulling a 4.0 was as easy and natural as breathing. She went to Boston College on a full ride and I haven’t heard from her since, and I don’t know what happened after that, but I bet she aced that place too.
I can’t help but wonder what it would feel like to be so good at something that it wasn’t challenging. So good the only way to challenge yourself is to set the bar of achievement in uncharted territory.
So when Sochiro Honda said that success is 99% failure, was he talking about these people? Or are they the exception to the rule?
Some experts say that you need to learn some lessons the hard way. But which ones?
I’m sure you’ve all heard the Lottery Winner/Rock Star horror stories, where quick financial success leads to ruin. You never hear these stories about people that worked long and hard for their success.
I had another friend whose brother was profoundly gifted and he became an unemployed alcoholic. When I asked her what she thought went wrong, she said, “Everything was too easy for him. He never had to study. He never had to work at anything so he didn’t work at anything. His gift made him lazy and arrogant.” What was the difference between him and my other gifted friend? Was it humility?
I’ve also read about entrepreneurs who succeed on their first try, think they have the Midas touch, and lose everything on their next venture because they didn’t learn to respect the difficulty of starting a business.
Reasonable people have said that George W. Bush makes poor decisions because he never had to learn anything the hard way – his family cushioned every fall. Since Clinton and Reagan didn’t have the luxury of inter-generational wealth, they didn’t make as many glaring errors because circumstances forced them to learn from their mistakes early on.
I’m sure you’ve heard stories about trust fund babies that wind up a mess. The movie Arthur comes to mind.
It seems failure is an antidote to one of the largest obstacles to achieving greatness – hubris.
Writing this post leaves me with more questions:
- Do the folks that seem to succeed without a major failure, succeed because they are already humble, so failure wasn’t necessary?
- Today, is it okay to have as many high profile failures as Abe Lincoln? Or has our culture changed so much that society would brand you a failure?
- Can a person learn without experiencing failure? Is such a thing even possible?
- What failures did Tiger Woods and Bill Gates learn from? Was it a few little things, like a bad shot or a bad decision here and there that never added up to anything major?
- Is it possible to succeed, never actually failing, but only learning from other people’s failures?
I possess only one piece of wisdom about this subject…
After I passed the examination for my pilot license, the examiner said:
Kid, you’re going to make mistakes. Just don’t make the one that kills you. – Anders Christensen