FAILURE, MY OLD FRIEND
I hate losing. Not coincidentally, I also hate failure, fumbling, and the feeling of egg on my face. Of all the mental and emotional struggles known to man, the pain of failure, for me, is probably the hardest thing to handle. But here’s the kicker: failure is probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me!
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
— Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
Whenever I fail — which is too often these days — my first instinct is to run away. And hide. And attempt to dull the pain by finding solace in the very few things I do well. Like hit a baseball. Or bang a drum. Or fix other people’s problems. Like most of us, during intense moments of self-doubt, I try the best I can, however feebly, to convince my soul that losing doesn’t make me a loser and failure doesn’t immediately make me one. But alas, eventually the batting cage closes and I am forced to face the cold, hard facts that, yes, I blew it. I choked. I’m sunnyside up.
But, thank God, that’s not the end of the story! If my own history has taught me anything, it’s that failure is often the precursor to all kinds of blessings in conjunction with, usually, unanticipated and undesired growth. I’ve also discovered, unintentionally, that the depth and degree of my sorrow is what makes subsequent success almost guaranteed. Because the pain of failure, for me, is so unbearable, I find myself willing to do almost anything, literally, to emotionally balance the scales. Sadly, it is usually only after I have failed that I’m willing to do the practical, prudent things I should have done at the very beginning. Things like seek advice and counsel. Pray. Develop contingency plans. Eat. Sleep. Hydrate. Rumble.
“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
— Winston Churchill
GET UP, STAND UP
If you haven’t figured it out, I have failed again. Miserably. Publicly. And right now, the pain is more acute than anything I can remember. What happened, you ask? For those who don’t know, I am one of the co-founders of the PlanetRock Foundation, a nonprofit startup that enables anyone to crowdfund long-term, solution-driven efforts that focus on education, children, wellness, the arts, community, jobs, and justice. What makes us unique is that unlike other crowdfunding companies that only host a platform, we also engineer projects as well. To our credit, most of our projects are visionary and viable and in keeping with our mission to be the most practical and egalitarian goodwill engine the world has ever known. The only problem is that we have fallen flat on our faces. Our very first effort — intentionally designed to be “small, easy to execute, and uniquely impactful” — has failed to garner any financial support at all. Despite only needing $75,000 to barely fund the Academic All-Star Celebration, we raised less than $2,000. Pathetic, most would say, and embarrassing any way you slice it.
To learn about the Academic All-Star Celebration, WATCH THIS VIDEO.
So where do we go from here? Certainly not back to the drawing board. The project is awesome, we believe in it, and we’re committed to making it happen. As a result, we are going to…pause…reflect…recalibrate…and then immediately make the changes necessary to successfully reach the finish line. But how, you ask? By doing things better. At the end of the day, there are really only two choices we have: either give up or get better. And thankfully, giving up is not a part of our DNA.
“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”
— Truman Capote
WHAT WE BELIEVE
On some level, we saw this coming. When we first gathered together as a board, we identified the beliefs and principles that would distinguish us an organization and steer us through inevitably difficult times. Clearly, we didn’t foresee difficult times coming so soon, but nevertheless, here we are. And so, as we reboot and move back to the starting line, we remain fully committed to the signature values that will always animate what we do:
We believe every problem has a solution.
We believe solutions demand action.
We believe actions speak louder than words.
We believe hope is active.
We believe service is proactive.
We believe kindness is courageous.
We believe struggle strengthens.
We believe perseverance prevails.
We believe truth sets us free.
We believe faith is indomitable.
We believe love is invincible.
We believe triumph is assured.
“A thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions — as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for him answers above all.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche
CLOWN SHOES OR CHEERLEADING?
As mentioned, in order to succeed this time, I am now prepared to do almost anything to balance the scales and partially remove — if it were even possible — the bitter taste of this present failure. Some who know me well have suggested that I make a fool of myself (not what I enjoy) and do something crazy, dangerous, weird, or wacky to bring national attention to the cause. Others have suggested I do the very opposite and simply focus on athletes and celebrities who can easily fund this project with pocket change. To my surprise, however, there have also been a few advocates who have lovingly suggested that we formally lower our expectations and accept the “fact” that our present goals are out of reach, at least for now, and most likely the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, what these loving voices don’t understand, in our estimation, is the hidden power in failure and the immense and lasting propulsion it provides. To these dear, true friends we lovingly reply, “We will not lower our expectations. We will not scale back. We will not abandon our values. We will simply elect to be smart, savvy, shrewd, or silly — as needed—until we finally get it done.” And that’s all there is to it. Whether this means I run a marathon with a cap and gown or more fervently appeal to our better angels, we’ll see. Either way, I would certainly stay tuned. We have failed — epically — so it’s on….
“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap,
if we do not give up.”
— Galations 6:9