Posts Tagged overcoming failure

There’s Probably Another Way to Do It

Tunnel vision is both extremely powerful and potentially debilitating. When we need extreme focus, tunnel vision blocks out distractions, making us more effective. More often, though, we need to see the bigger picture in order to be most effective, and tunnel vision can get in our way. That was my gym lesson for the week.

Readers of this blog and people who know me know that my body is an enigma of peculiar strengths and weaknesses. This creates unique challenges when I attempt simple tasks, like loading weights on some of the machines at the gym. To load one machine, I must move weight from knee level to head level. To do this, I grab the weight with my abnormally strong left arm which has no problem moving it to shoulder height, where an almost completely unusable left shoulder should take over. Since it can’t, my weak right hand must catch the weight and move it the final few inches to its target on the machine. If I time everything right and am feeling good, this isn’t a problem. If something is off, the weight comes back down, straining my back. Picture a track athlete trying to set a personal best on the pole vault.

Smaller weights are not a problem, but the biggest plates – those that I want on the machine – are. It’s a good day when the machine is already loaded or I can find a friend to help me load it. That wasn’t the case last week. I thought about trying to hoist the weights myself, but I have been recovering from a knee injury and didn’t want to make things worse. I was about to skip the lift when I realized that I can load the same weight as the large plates by simply using more of the smaller ones. Graduate school finally paid off!

Obviously, it wasn’t the math that created this “aha!” moment – fourth-graders could have figured out the numbers – it was looking past my tunnel vision. My mind saw only one way of performing that lift; I needed the big plates up there. If they weren’t up there, my mind erased all other possibilities. I was about to walk away when my vision suddenly widened.

Think about how that happens in other areas of life. Imagine a big project, like changing the landscape in your backyard. Maybe you have attempted something similar and achieved less-than-desirable results. That earlier failure might make you hesitant to even start the project, but is there another way to do it? Not even attempting the project is already a failure.

The challenge often isn’t dreaming up a new solution. Many times, like my example at the gym, the solution isn’t even that complicated. The challenge is recognizing that alternative solutions even exist.

Swedish furniture maker IKEA is an extremely popular company worth billions of dollars. IKEA’s packed, ready-to-assemble furniture is not only easier to transport than traditional furniture, but it is also less expensive. IKEA became a pioneer in this regard in 1955, and remains a recognized brand for it 70 years later.

The idea that made the company famous and prosperous came when one of the company’s employees was having a difficult time loading a table into a car. (Good thing the customer didn’t have a pick-up truck.) To solve this problem, the employee removed the table’s legs and stored them underneath in what would become known as a flatpack, which is what you would buy in one of their stores today.

Again, the solution was simple, and it was born in response to a problem.

The next time you encounter a problem, before walking away in defeat, consider: is there another way to do it? You might surprise yourself with what you can do.

 

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For while knowledge defines all we currently know and understand, imagination points to all we might yet discover and create.”

~Albert Einstein

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Pride, Pain in the Friday Night Lights

starter

Earlier this month, I had the peculiar experience of seeing my son live out a dream that went unfulfilled for me when I was his age. Patrick was announced as a starter in his first varsity football game, in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd that held many of his friends and family.

I was ecstatic for him, but it’s easier for me to identify with the guys on the sidelines. Like them, my dream was to hear my name called over the speakers by the announcer and to run out on that football field, before those fans and under those lights. I vividly remember playing that scene in my mind, as I rode hills on my bicycle in the predawn stillness before my morning weight-lifting sessions.

Though it provided plenty of motivation, the dream for me was never realized. Instead of my years of intense training being rewarded in grand fashion, in front of friends and family, my dream of being a high school football star died quietly in an Omaha orthopedist’s office with my parents as the only witnesses.

This juxtaposition of heart-warming success and heart-wrenching failure plays out not only on athletic fields, but in offices, classrooms and elsewhere every day. Some succeed, while others fail. Dreams are fulfilled, and dreams are crushed. Some of these dreams are abandoned, while others are reconstructed.

On the football field, the drama is amplified, literally under a bright light. You practice and train beside your teammates, always trying to find your place in the hierarchy. You compete together, but also against each other for those precious few spots. Some are going to win, and because there are winners, there also have to be losers.

It’s the same way in life. We don’t get the job for which we feel we are perfect or we’re passed over for a promotion. A love interest leaves us in puzzled rejection. The invite gets lost in the mail.

Failure and disappointment are part of life, and fear of them can be crippling, unless you can put them in context. If we learn from it, failure is an event that will pass, rather than a condition that will last.

Albert Einstein said, “Failure is success in progress.” Failure gives you a chance to evaluate yourself and your approach, and adjust or even change direction. The experience makes you more likely to succeed somewhere further down the line.

In his last year of youth baseball, Patrick played at a high level, but rode the bench a lot. It was frustrating and disappointing for him. Like his football teammates, he did everything the coach asked, but someone at his position was better than he. Ultimately, at the end of the season, he and half his teammates were cut from the team. That experience hurt, but it also helped him understand losing in a competitive situation, and ironically, it pushed him toward success in football.

Though he enjoyed baseball, most of that enjoyment came from playing with his friends on that team. Without that option, he decided to hang up the cleats. Because high-level baseball required so much dedication throughout the spring and summer, he had already disciplined himself to sacrifice, and he simply shifted the focus to football training. I’m convinced that shift in focus enabled him to earn that starting spot on the football team, and had he not been cut from the baseball team, he would not be a starter on the varsity football team.

Despite my best efforts, I never experienced athletic success, but I attribute a lot of the success that I have experienced since to my pursuit of that dream. My dream drove me, disciplined me and taught me more about myself and my place in life than anything else in my childhood.

That’s the value of dreams. They give you a reason to believe and achieve. They encourage you to push yourself harder and further than you think you can go. They incite passion. They nurture dedication.

Don’t be afraid to dream, and don’t be afraid to fail. You never know what you might achieve.

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