Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Professor Rios on failure.

I prefer to view the failure to reach a goal on the first try or even several subsequent ones, as a temporary setback. It may require that I rethink my approach or work differently to reach it, but unless I never try again, it isn't a complete failure. When faced with a new obstacle, I might for a moment be dismayed at yet one more thing standing in the path I have chosen, but giving up isn't an option if it is something that is important. It might take longer, require more effort than I thought or require something new that I have to learn first, or require that I postpone it until after I take care of something else, but if getting to the goal is important then I will keep going. That isn't to say I might not bitch along the way, but overall, it doesn't stop me.

My Behavioral Counseling instructor, Jose Rios, sent out an email today with these words about failure:

Had a long talk last night that went into the early morning hours. The discussion went from subject to subject, but centered on failure.

We all fail, sometimes more than we succeed. While failure isn’t always something to cherish outright, we should recognize its inevitability and, a very subtle way, embrace it because of what it can teach us.

Failure is part of what we are and what we do. Our behaviors do not always produce the consequences we expect or those that we once wished for. We may put in a lot of time, energy, expectations, suffering and hope into an endeavor, and the results are less than stellar. We may fail and then attach blame to ourselves for the failure. That’s probably a very human trait.

But if we look at failure as a learning experience, we can grow from it. If we expect occasional failure and if we do not see them as failures of who we are, we are not so devastated by them.

Failures can teach us how to behave. What tactic s worked and what needs to be discarded. We can learn what should have been done better and then, we can get up and struggle again. It is when failure’s lesson is to give up rather than to fight that hinders us.

Whenever I face a precipitous mountain climb on my bike, I know that failure is possible. But I also know that if I fail the first time, then there is always something to learn from that initial attempt. I then go into my “obsessive” state in which I only think about what I can do to improve my performance because I am not going to let one failure stop me. To date, even at my advanced age, I have not yet faced an incline or a mountain pass that I have not been able to conquer. I remember years ago, in Laguna Beach when I was staying there, I climbed a very steep series of hills that lead above the city. I made it about half way and was devastated by the inclination. I fell from my bike (at such a slow speed, the fall was not much) and became ill from the stress of trying to climb it. I was quickly departed from my morning coffee and croissant.
Sadly went back to the hotel. Marie asked what happened and I told her. Later than afternoon, she saw me eying the distant hill and knowing me as she did, said that she knew that those hills were all I was going to think (and talk)
for the remainder of the day. The next morning, I tried again and made it to the top. The next day, I did it twice in a row just to prove that I was not going to be defeated. If I had not that initial failure, it still would have been a hell of a struggle to make it, but the subsequent climbs were exceptional because of I knew I had failed and was not going to have that occur again (and if I did, I was going to continue to obsess until I succeeded).

Failure then, is not a negative when we learn and adapt and when it gives us the need to reach the top of the mountain. We are where we are because of failures and what they have taught us. We will continue to have an occasional failure and to have a let down now and then. But when we do, we have to stare intensely at the mountains and recognize that we have not been defeated and obsess on getting back to the top.


His "advanced age" by the way is younger than mine by a few years.

And this isn't related to final exams. I don't have any fears of lowering my 3.96 (out of 4.0 possible) GPA this week, though it is possible that one class could drop it a point or so if she uses the expanded grading system. I just thought I would share his words and see what ripples they create.

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