What Does It Mean To Be A Failure?

Back when I had children playing hockey, baseball, and volleyball, I noticed that there were two kinds of mistakes.  Physical mistakes and mental mistakes.

Physical mistakes were never a real problem although sometimes they seemed important at the time.  Everyone steps on the puck sooner or later.  Everyone misses a pass.  Everyone strikes out.  That is the nature of sports.  Physical effort is not as precise as we might like.  A little more practice might help.

Mental mistakes on the other hand are less easy to tolerate.  Goalies are not supposed to count the crowd while the game goes on.  Shortstops need to know how many people are out.  It is wise to know the score.  Mental mistakes come about from lack of focus or sometimes from a lack of understanding.  These mistakes must be identified, brought strongly to the attention of the player, and a method of noticing and changing behaviour that they can implement recommended.  Not everyone can have the skills of a professional athlete, but everyone can pay attention to the process.

Mistakes are narrow.  They may identify a way to behave differently and better in the future.  Everyone has an inventory of them and each of us can learn from them if we want to do so.

The problem is that we often leap from a mistake to a decision that we are a failure.  Misidentifying the problem is a serious mistake.  Mistakes are something we can recover from.  Plans fail. Some actions do not work out.  These do not make a person a failure.

Assessing personal failure is error prone.

Sometimes it is an excuse to stop trying.  “I am not good at math.” eliminates some work and guarantees the low grade to come.  Self-fulfilling prophesy.

Sometimes the assessment of personal failure is based on a single exemplar.  In statistics, there is the small sample error to worry about.  We should not assess ourselves to be a failure based on a small sample.

The sample size may mislead too, unless the events are not correlated.

If I phoned 30 people and ask for an opportunity to review their life insurance portfolio and receive not a single positive response, then I might reasonably assume I am a failure at phone solicitation.  That would be a poor assumption.  Despite the significant size of the sample, it is really just a single trial, unless I used a different approach for each of them.  It is far more likely my approach is wrong and not that I am a failure.

Life will become easier if we criticize ourselves properly.  Notice the difference between a mistake and a failure.  Learn about functionally different mistakes.  Learn that mistakes don’t make failures.  Learn that failure is a condition that is easily misunderstood.  Learn that techniques can lead to failure, while the person still has opportunities.

Every life has a some things that did not work.  Sometimes a project can fail without a mistake.  Those are lessons not the defining moment of failure.  The late Muhammed Ali says it best:

Inside of a ring or out, ain’t nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.

When you think about it, it is easy to fail and very hard to be a failure.  You could become a seasoned student of life, but a failure, not so much.

Don Shaughnessy arranges life insurance for people who understand the value of a life insured estate. He can be reached at The Protectors Group, a large insurance, employee benefits, and investment agency in Peterborough, Ontario.  In previous careers, he has been a partner in a large international public accounting firm, CEO of a software start-up, a partner in an energy management system importer, and briefly in the restaurant business.

Please be in touch if I can help you.  don@moneyfyi.com  866-285-7772

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