04 February 2006

Aggressive mistakes.

Football coaches will tell their players that when they make a mistake on the field, it’s better if it’s an aggressive mistake. Baseball managers will tell their players not to get “cheated” on a pitch. If you’re going to swing, go ahead and make it a big swing. The point is this: if you make a timid attempt at a block or a tackle in football, but guess right and hit your man on target, you still might not take him down, simply because you were too timid. If you fly at him and miss, you miss, but if you hit him, he’s down for sure. The same with baseball: if you take a timid swing and make contact, you’re probably out anyway, but if you rip at it and connect, you might clear the bases.

I’m as guilty as anybody of wanting to prevent failure in advance. And, like a lot of smart people, I flatter myself to think I can predict the future so well that I’ll know what’s sure to lead to success or sure to lead to failure, even in areas where some detached observation would convince me that the outcome in unknowable.

The antidote is to fail in the real world: go ahead and let it fly, then see what happens. If you’re wrong, be wrong, find out, and then fix it on the next go-round. Don’t sit back and preserve yourself from being wrong . . . or from being really right.

Steve Pavlina addressed this syndrome in his essay, “Show Me Your Battle Scars”: “Show me the wounds you’ve endured as a result of pursuing goals you couldn’t achieve. Let’s see that bankruptcy, that broken heart, the rejection letter, the lawsuit, the divorce, the public humiliation. Show me the total failures, the brutal disappointments, the smack-downs.” Probably the most famous formulation of this idea comes from Theodore Roosevelt:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Note to self: get more aggressive about pursuing the necessary failures en route to success.

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