Destined To Fail

I remember as a child when I first started falling in love with my favorite sport, soccer.  There's something about the thrill of dribbling the ball down the grassy field, allowing the energy of the ball to travel through my foot and into my soul.  It was invigorating and electrifying for my little five year old spirit.  The only thing that pleased me more than playing soccer was winning.  Unfortunately I spent much more time with the former than the latter.  I remember spending hours outside in the backyard, just me and my dad, playing one on one.  And getting scored.  Over and over and over again.  Granted I was five and my dad probably could have let me win a couple of times to make me stop crying so much (Dad, if you're reading this, my counselor told me I've made great progress in overcoming the emotional trauma from this time in my life).  It was plain to see from early on that winning was very important to me, and failure was not acceptable.  At least not without the shedding of many tears.  

    Well, I'm about twenty years older now and I've managed to grow a little bit along the way (and while I'm certainly no Mezzi, I've managed to slightly improve my game in soccer as well).  Life has taught me a lot of valuable lessons.  I've learned a lot about organization, how to live a disciplined life, and what it takes to accomplish your dreams.  If you know me well you know that I am a fairly driven kind of guy.  Many people have goals in life and work hard to achieve them.  This is so much a part of me that sometimes I feel that my greatest goal in life is actually to accomplish goals.  I guess there's just something mildly intoxicating about that feeling you get when you score a winning goal, when you ace that test you studied so hard for, or when you finish that painting that leaves everyone's eyes wide in fascination.  I'm sure we all know what I'm talking about.  It's that high you get when it seems everything in life is going your way.  No need to change sides, the grass is quite green right where you are. These moments of triumph and jubilation that you experience are not to be taken lightly as they are vital to providing encouragement and a sense of focus and purpose in life.  With this being said, I believe we must be wary when we begin to notice an overabundance of success in our life.  Allow me to explain.  I have trained in martial arts for more than fifteen years.  I've gone from a weak, bony little boy who knew nothing about defending himself to a third degree black belt who can hold his own in a fight.  This success did not come overnight, and there were certainly moments along the growth curve where I experienced greater gains than any other times.  One of those explosions of growth came for me after a tournament I competed in where I received a royal whooping in my sparring division, particularly from a competitor who seemed to sneak past my defenses as easily as if I opened the door and invited him in for tea.  It was mildly humiliating for me, not to mention extremely aggravating.  I had never fought someone so fast and bold before, and my miserable loss left me feeling inadequate and weak.  But I will tell you I've never experienced such a rapid growth in ability as I did after that great defeat.  The comfort buble I had built around myself by continually fighting the same people who only mildly challenged me came to serve as nothing but a cage in which I was trapped, unable to achieve greater potential, unable to discover who I could truly become.  

At the end of the day it all comes down to one thing: pride.  Jesus once said that in order to be the greatest you must become the least.  To intentionally put ourselves beneath someone else is anything short of natural yet it is our only option if we desire to achieve our greatest potential.  In speaking to the creative person, actor and director Harold Ramis give some of the best advice I've heard.  Ramis suggests to "find the most talented person in the room, and if it's not you, go stand next to him.  Hang out with him.  Try to be helpful."  I've found myself in this situation many a time and I can guarantee you that Harold's advice is not as easy as it sounds.  There's something that keeps me from wanting to admit my inadequacies to others, and merely admitting that I'm not the most creative person in the room can be a bit hard to swallow.  Yet speaking from experience, I can say that the times I've grown the most in my design work have been when I have placed myself in the role of pupil and someone else that of teacher, even when the latter was a fellow classmate like myself.  Most times I have to force myself to swallow an extra large portion of humble pie. Whenever I accept my role as student, it often means I have already failed at some endeavor and am publicly declaring my inadequacy.  Yet just as with my learning experience in the realm of fighting, I cannot deny the enormous benefit of admitting my failures and then humbling myself in order to learn from others.  And just as my learning remained stagnate while I found myself in a continual place of winning and success, so you can find yourself in a place where you might actually be "the most talented person in the room".  If this is the situation, I refer you to the wisdom of author/artist Austin Kleon: "If you ever find you're the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room".  The more time you spend in your stagnating pool of success, the more your rob yourself of golden opportunity to learn and grow from others who may have ideas, tips or wisdom you never would have produced otherwise.  If pride comes before a fall, then humility comes before success, one way or another.  

I still may not be the most talented and creative architect out there, which is why I strive to surround myself with people who inspire me and push my way of thinking.  I certainly know I'm not the best fighter out there, which is why I don't mind losing to the best fighters at a tournament so long as I come away having gained some wisdom or insight.  In fact I can't think of a single activity or pursuit where I can confidently claim to be the best in the world, but maybe that's not such a bad thing.  Perhaps by accepting not just the necessity of failure but also it's inherent growth opportunities, we may eventually fully embrace this invaluable learning tool.  Perhaps if we are all destined for greatness (which I believe we are), we are simultaneously destined to fail.

Jacob DeNeui