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The Best Advice I Never Got: Deliberate Failure

The Best Advice I Never Got: Deliberate Failure

Photo on 8-19-13 at 11.09 AMThis month here on middleSage our topic of choice is “The Best Advice I Never Got”.  We’ll be talking about the lessons we learned later in life, lessons that would have saved us a whole lot of heartache had we learned them earlier.  In the spirit of “I wish I knew then what I know now”!

Today I’m talking about failure….specifically, planning for it.

Hope for the best…Cope with the rest?  As I always shout at the TV when I hear a politician talk about his “Hopes”; Hope is not a plan!  My husband relies on, “I used to have hope in my soul, now I simply have soap in my hole.”

I based an entire entire career around  doing that which I already knew, that which I was already good at.  I was successful, I didn’t fail, but I didn’t take chances and I didn’t learn anything new.  When I “retired” I decided it was time for me to do something else with my time and energy, the thought of “just trying” something out was completely foreign to me.  I had reached the stage in life where I was successful.  Failing didn’t scare me, it just wasn’t in the cards….I never learned how to do it.

MourningI’ve read all the “fear of failure” material…I’m guessing you have too.  It wasn’t until I read an article by John Caddell, on 99u, a website that touts itself for “insights on making ideas happen”.  The article made me think about failure in a different way.  It’s inevitable, learning how to handle it and learn from it can be far more valuable than avoiding it.  John, says in the article:

Deliberate mistakes are an underutilized tool in our personal growth. They are not natural and don’t arise by default. But, if approached the right way, they can propel us forward and provide us crucial information to guide our future development. To paraphrase Henry Ford, if you believe you can’t do something, you’re always right.

Often when faced with a difficult task we make a set of assumptions that dictate our actions. “I’m not good enough to get that client.” Or “I can’t go to that event, it’s too big-time for me.” We can sabotage ourselves before we even begin, afraid of failure or embarrassment. To tackle hard problems and to really stretch ourselves, sometimes we have to make a “deliberate mistake.”

if we fail, we learn something. If we succeed, our long-shot risk actually paid off. By reframing tough tasks as “deliberate mistakes” we can help remove all of the pressure that can keep us frozen, all while learning something along the way.

It’s the term “deliberate mistakes” that got my attention.  How many times do we try something and fail and hang our head in shame and walk away?  I know I am guilty.  How many times have we been dismissive when a mistake was made…”No big deal, it didn’t really matter to me anyway”.  If we were to teach our kids how to fail, how to use the tools that failing provides you & how to come back swinging after failure, well, just think of the possibilities.

Since you’re reading this blog, I feel confident to tell you, I don’t always know what I’m doing in the blogging world.  I’m teaching myself what works and what doesn’t by trial and error.  When I started in the blogging world, the language was foreign and I didn’t know what I was doing.  I blogged in anonymity to avoid ridicule.  I didn’t feel too uncomfortable in the learning curve stage and the thought of “failure” wasn’t too scary….as long as nobody knew it was me.

imageLearning to fail should be as important in school as Reading, Writing, & Arithmetic.  How to think about failure, not in terms of a finality, but in terms of how to do something better.  Have you ever been to a child’s baseball, football or soccer game and they’re not keeping score.  There’s a philosophy of starting a child out without the “failure” ingredient as part of their experience.  What a great way to teach our kids about the fear of failure and what a great way not to teach our kids about the benefits and tools we can develop by failing. This is a failure on our part. Kids who are not taught and given the opportunity to fail and then learn from it will never feel secure trying new things and learning from the experience.

UnknownBaseball players are excellent failures!

Ty Cobb holds the record for the highest career batting average in Major League Baseball with .366. Not being a baseball fanatic I had to look up exactly how batting averages are calculated and what they actually mean.   The batting average is usually represented not as a percentage (i.e. 28.0%), but instead as a decimal number with three places after the decimal. A batting average of 1.000 means that the player gets a hit every time he comes to bat, and an average of .000 means the player has no hits.

Ty Cobbs hits have been estimated at between 4,189 (or 4,191, depending on the source)   Cobb’s At-bats estimates have ranged as high as 11,437.  So if Ty Cobb gets 4189 hits in his career and has 11,437 “at bats” in his career his batting average would be 4189/11,437 or .366.

This is the math of success.  But it’s also the math of failure.  Ty Cobb, the baseball player with the greatest batting average, failed at getting a hit more times than he hit the ball, and he’s still considered the greatest.  Every time a batter fails to hit the ball, they analyze what did they do wrong.  What can be done differently?  They come back to the plate with a resolve to crush it with the new knowledge they’ve gained only through their failure.

Why does Ty Cobb hold the title for the greatest batting average today?  He didn’t give up when he failed to get a hit.  I’m not much of a baseball fan, but I am a fan of those that learn from their failures and come back swinging.

sunday 015What’s your style?  Avoid failure at all costs, or dive in with both feet and never let them see you sweat?  Hang your head in shame or hold your head high and come back swinging?


  1. Pam Houghton

    8 October

    I think this is great and I agree that “failure” should almost be a course of study in high school. Let’s get these kids to take some calculated risks and if they don’t work out, ask them, what did you learn? They could make it an English course,have them write a paper, and read books about people who failed before they succeeded. I wrote about this topic for a parenting magazine. Here’s a link if you care to read. http://www.metroparent.com/Metro-Parent/February-2013/Why-Good-Parents-Let-Their-Kids-Fail/
    Pam Houghton recently posted…Ireland – Part TwoMy Profile

    • Barbara Coleman

      8 October

      Thanks Pam! I wish I had a handle on this even when I was raising my kids. I think because I learned this later in life I just might be a better grandma than parent.

  2. Sue

    8 October

    So very true and you shine the light on failure in just the right places.
    Sue recently posted…Little Deer Isle Vacation Rentals – Periwinkle and Serendipity CottagesMy Profile

    • Barbara Coleman

      8 October

      Thanks for reading Sue! It’s interesting putting an idea like this out in such a public forum! A true test of “walking the talk”!

  3. Helene Cohen Bludman

    8 October

    This is an enlightening post — thank you. It would be great if we could all look at failure as an important part of our education and growth. The key is to look at an experience as a failure and not look at yourself as a failure. Not always easy to do.

    • Barbara Coleman

      9 October

      It’s a hard lesson to learn that’s for sure…especially when you’re teaching yourself! Would be so much easier to learn as a child with a good teacher

  4. Sue Shoemaker

    8 October

    This post reminds me of Thomas Edison. It took thousands of attempts to find a filament for the incandescent lamp. His comment: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

    It also makes me think about my dance classes. Fifteen years ago, I started taking an adult tap dancing class, then ten years ago I added a clogging class to my weekly routine. We dance in three recitals in the spring. If there was ever an opportunity to feel that “fear of failing”…dancing on a stage in front of 500 people is enough to give anyone “the willies.” However, having the courage to get up on that stage and perform creates such a RUSH. It’s scary, fun, and exciting all in one!

    The fear of public speaking is one of the greatest fears most people have. I really appreciated the following quote that I found on Pinterest:

    • Barbara Coleman

      8 October

      Oh my god Sue, I love that quote! I’m hanging on to this one!!!

  5. Great post Lee! I so agree…Jimmy and I have always said about raising our kids, we’d rather have our kids fall down while they still have the hammock of home to fall into. So often you see parents consumed with fear over what will happen if their kids make the mistakes they did (or they didn’t), or God forbid, “fail” at something. Everything we do lends us an opportunity to learn, re-tool and even try again. I would far prefer to fall down in failure from taking a risk then remain paralyzed out of fear.
    Elin Stebbins Waldal recently posted…My Parent’s LettersMy Profile

    • Barbara Coleman

      9 October

      Elfin, you’re so right on with that! I had a therapist say to me once; “you’ve had a pretty tough journey so far…but that journey is responsible for creating a person I truly enjoy being around – it’s made you a great person…why do you want to ob your daughter of that opportunity?” Thanks for reading and commenting – it’s great to share our collective wisdom!

  6. Sheryl

    9 October

    I’d rather try and fail than not try at all. Failure feels lousy – but then again, it feels terrific when you realize that it taught you something very, very valuable.

  7. This is such an important post. I remember a NY TImes article that quoted a study which found that learning to get up after failure is the best indicator of future success, and that it’s the most valuable lesson we can teach our kids. This is why I hated the “everyone wins” philosophy that accompanied their first entries into sports. Everyone DOESN’T win, and you have to learn to accept that and keep trying until you do.
    Lois Alter Mark recently posted…14 lessons i learned while cleaning my closet: a pictorialMy Profile

  8. […] The Best Advice I Never Got: Deliberate Failure (middlesage.com) […]

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  10. Wisemommies

    12 October

    What do you think about this new movement, that everyone is a winner…there are no losers? I think you are so right. We all have to fail to learn and grow. Great post! I hope the school continue to allow children to fail and see that everyone has the opportunity to win but you have to find your way and that there are winners and losers. Stopping by from wisemommies via SITS! http://www.wisemommies.com

    • Barbara Coleman

      12 October

      You find out after you’ve grown up that not everybody’s a winner…only those that have tried and failed and come back with a new resolve. Teaching kids they are winners just for being part of the group/team sets them up for an illusion later in life that winning just happens because you show up. We all know that’s not the way life works… Its a lesson I wish I had learned at a much earlier age. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

  11. Learning to fail. I have been teaching my 6 year old that all you can do is try your best, nothing beats a failure buy a try, and try, try, try again. He gets so frustrated when he can’t complete a task or can’t master it. I don’t let him take the easy way out or give up. Thank you for sharing and linking up on the Traffic Jam Weekend.
    Kimberly H. Smith recently posted…Traffic Jam Weekend Linky PartyMy Profile

    • Barbara Coleman

      21 October

      Thanks for stopping into middleSage! It sounds like you’re raising what will all too soon be a healthy adult!

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