How long would you give a baby to learn how to walk?
Answer: As long as it takes.
I remember when I first started learning to draw. I’ve talked about it before in posts and videos. I’ve thought of it before too. And each time I think about it I find something new that I hadn’t seen before. At the time when this was happening my utter failures were utter defeats. Each scribbled, ugly drawing was a sign of hopelessness with no chance of success, it was evidence of my futile, wasted efforts. Improvement did not come no matter how hard I tried or wished for it. My level of frustration could not be put into words. It was a daily excruciating experience.
Let me put this into perspective for you so you don’t think that I’ve gone completely nuts here. Learning is supposed to be fun, right? Or at least it could be fun. If someone shows you a road, gives you a process that you can follow and reveals to you the transformation you will undergo if you do what you’re told then – yep, that sounds like a fun ride, that’s exciting and awesome. But if you are unaware of the fact that there is a process, that a road exists and that a transformation is even possible – then that feeling is like living in a prison. It’s being condemned to your genetics, talents, previous experience, environment, childhood, upbringing, whatever you can think of – all of those become things to blame your failures on and you get locked in further in your cell, because those things become excuses and you no longer see yourself as responsible for what happens to you. You were set up to fail. The deck was always stacked against you.
And you’d be right. No one has the deck in their favor. The very nature of life is that you’re supposed to constantly deteriorate. Your biology worsens with every year of your life. Your body stiffens. Your bones get brittle. Your mind becomes slower. Time eats at you like water wears down a rock. This is the path of common knowledge. This is the tested, tried and true path handed down from generation to generation and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
At the same time, I’ve seen bodybuilders in their 70s and 80s… Is that a paradox? That at the time when people are expected to walk around with canes or walkers, or to be wheeled around, there are others that not only carry their weight around, they throw iron weights around as well? Is that a coincidence? Is that a function of a different deck? I don’t believe so. I find those people to be supremely inspirational, because they go against things that we see as unvarying. Old age is always seen as crippling and debilitating. I wanted to go deeper into these people’s stories and I’ve found that they are not the people that have been training all of their lives or lived in the most healthy way. Many times they’ve started after having been crushed by disease or they were having trouble walking because they were severely overweight, or had an accident. They started with failure. Major, life threatening failure. And they not only recovered, they defied all odds, they redefine what is thought of as possible. The deck was stacked against them too and it seemed as though it was playing out the common path that we all know. Old age, disease, what’s not to be expected? Surely the next step is decrepitude. Nope. Bodybuilder. How’s that for a slap in the face of what’s possible and what’s not?
Failing is not something to be shunned or avoided. We spend most of our lives trying to avoid failure at all cost. Not trying things, not going places, not daring to do what we conceive of because of the constant threat of failure. That threat that you’re trying to avoid is actually your most powerful teacher. That’s the hand that’s there to smack you on the head each time you’re trying to crawl at your very best, because it knows that you can walk. Failure has a particular sting to it that’s hard to get over. That sting is the cost of your transformation. It’s the cost of reshuffling the deck, it’s the cost of taking the alternate path instead of the common one. That sting is the feeling of paying your dues upfront, of earning your reward, because if you don’t pay now you will end up paying a much steeper price later.
Success is worthless without a personal transformation, I wouldn’t even call that success, that’s just a change of circumstance, whether financial or social it doesn’t really make a difference, the goal of anything, I would say, is to become a better person. Success without failure breeds arrogance. Failure alone breeds despair and self-imposed limitations. But seeing that failure as a step and taking the next one and the one after, learning from each smack on the head and reevaluating your steps – that’s where the teaching power of failing lies. If you’re a beginner and you succeed at what you try, you only attempt something once and it comes out ok – you might never try it again. You’ll never be forced to realize the thousands of implications that you didn’t even notice when you were doing your task, because you weren’t stopped and made to examine them. Failure points out where you’re lacking, very clearly and distinctly. It will stop you in your tracks and make you look all over for what you’ve missed, what you’ve neglected, what you didn’t spend enough time on. Ultimately this process will make you times better than the person who had a chance success. It will transform you from an impatient, demanding, whining, dissatisfied, fearful complainer into a resilient, thoughtful, thorough, tough, driven and determined individual. Forget about shortcuts, stop looking for ways around the mountain, steel yourself for a good punch, let it shatter your petty little ego and rebuild yourself, find out what you’re made of, find out who you can become. Let go of your airy-fairy views and let failure show you how things really work.
Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
Thomas A. Edison
When I was young, I observed that nine out of ten things I did were failures. So I did ten times more work.
George Bernard Shaw
Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.