Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Road To Success Is Paved With Failure

Yesterday I posted a link to Paul Tudor Jones' speech to the graduating class of ninth graders at New York's Buckley School.

To the relief of some, I did not offer very much commentary.

Today is a new day, so I will post some of my thoughts on the speech.

Jones wanted the teenagers to know that the road to success is paved with failure. And that your success will depend on how deeply you experience the shame of failure and how well you learn to overcome it.

He wanted these adolescents to know that behind great success there lies a series of extremely painful failures.

Take these points as benchmarks against which you can measure the rules that our culture is imparting.

Ask yourself this: do we still allow children to fail? Are children allowed to do poorly in tests, are they allowed to get things wrong, and are they allowed to be called on the carpet for having made egregious errors?

I suspect that this is not always the case. We have all heard about the empathic school administrators and teachers who are terrified at the possibility that a child might fail at something.

These officials have banned dodgeball and spelling bees because some of the children will feel badly for not coming in first. Worse yet, they have introduced fuzzy math, where there are no right and wrong answers, because one person's wrong answer is another's expression of creativity.

Where these policies are practiced, children are not allowed to fail. They do not know what it feels like to fail. They do not know what it feels like to let themselves down. They do not hate the shame of failure with every sinew of their being.

The consequence: they are not being prepared to succeed. And they will lack the motivation to succeed.

Jones told his audience about his own failures. He did not sugarcoat them; he did not say that they were good experiences. He did not try to show people how to palliate the pain of failure.

Instead, he offered something of real value. He told them how to use failure to gain success. He showed them how he picked himself off the floor, how he went back to the drawing board, how he attacked problems anew, and how he kept on doing it until he succeeded.

This is not the way therapy has traditionally taught people to deal with failure. Therapy and its culture has tried to make failure a meaningful experience, one that you should understand, one that you should integrate into your life narrative, one from which you should use to learn more about your miserable upbringing and your childhood traumas.

Therapists feel your pain. And they do not want you to feel too much of it because then you might not like them as much. They want you to feel that today's shame is not really about today's failure. It hurts because it reminds you of a forgotten childhood trauma. One for which you were decidedly not responsible.

Paul Tudor Jones is saying that your failure is your alone. Don't go out and blame others for your mistakes. The experience is not a meaningful reflection on your character; it need not be integrated into your life story.

To make failure into a stepping stone to success get out of your mind and back in the game; keep trying until you get it right.

If you do not own your failures, you will not own your successes. If you blame others for your failures, you will have to grant others the credit for your successes.

Then you will never really enjoy your successes because you will never really feel that they are yours.

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