Saturday, July 7, 2012

Failure: Maybe an Option?

Hi, folks. Cyrus Keith here. It took some time to figure out what wanted to share with you all this week. I mean, I could spend a whole post about writing and my award-winning series the NADIA Project. But after this week and all the hullabaloo in the news on so many fronts, something else has invaded my thoughts and won’t let go.

It’s that one line from “Apollo 13.” You know the one. Ed Harris, playing Mission Flight Director Gene Kranz, roars across the control room, “We’ve never lost an American in space and we’re sure as hell not gonna lose on on my watch! Failure is not an option!” It energizes the team, and lo and behold, the astronauts are saved. Happy ending for all, and there was much rejoicing (ya-a-a-ay…). In reality, Kranz never said that line, but we’re going to use the statement anyway.

Kranz and his team pulled off a miracle in bringing Lovell and his crew home. What makes a person dig in like that and pull miracles out of nowhere? What is it that makes us reach for greatness, build big things? I have an idea about that. It all boils down to one phrase.

Failure sucks.

Failure. S.U.C.K.S. mud. That’s supposed to be self-evident. But that’s not what we are teaching our kids today. Look at me, sounding like the crotchety old fart sitting on his porch yelling at kids as they pass. Only now, they can’t hear through those iPod buds crammed in their ears.

But here’s my point: We can’t keep score in Little League, or celebrate a win, because that would mean someone has to lose, and we can’t have the little tykes feel bad, can we? We hand out ribbons for “participant” because if you don’t get a ribbon, your little heart would just break. You grow up insulated from failure, because it would damage your self-image, and we can’t have that. Failing grades are even adjusted so they at least get a “course complete.”

So what happens when our little ones grow up and the world pops their bubble wrap? They fail at a job interview. No ribbon for showing up. They miss a deadline and get fired. How can their boss be so mean? Their manuscript gets rejected. Three astronauts die on their watch because they 1.) have never seen the consequences of failure 2.) have no idea how to handle it, and 3.) have never been taught to give a rat’s hairy little tushie whether they succeed or not. I’m glad Gene Kranz grew up in the day when they understood the consequences of failure he became a NASA flight director.

Failure sucks. Failure should suck. Failure gives us the incentive to do better next time, to drive for something of a superior quality. Sure, no one wants to fail. But if no one fails, does anyone succeed? How do you know?

Kids know. I saw kids on both little league teams secretly keeping score: Counting outs, tracking runs. Whether the Bubble-wrap Moms and Blow-Foam Dads knew it or not, those kids knew. There is something built inside us that needs to win. But for someone to win, someone has to lose.

Too bad. Go ahead and lose. But practice hard. Fix those weak spots in your defense. Run double-play combinations. Work on your batting. Come back next week and blow our socks off. I dare you.

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