Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Success Is Not the Point

I got a rejection letter today. Two weeks ago, I sent "Overhead" to a big-time record label requesting to be considered for distribution. Their reply was one I've never heard before, that due to the high volume of music they handle, they are unable to give my music the time it deserves to be reviewed.

I was unfazed by the news, much to my surprise. Once I figured out what the letter was saying, I put it in my desk drawer and continued on with my day as usual.

What has since occupied my mind was not the rejection of my product, but my emotional detachment from the experience. How did I arrive at a place where I am okay with the labor of my heart being passed up and delivered back to my doorstep?

I began to think of my earlier days as a student athlete at a rural public high school. We could not accomplish a winning season in a single event. Throughout my four years there, I could count the combined wins of every team sport on one hand. Losing was simply a part of student life. I often wondered what it would be like to attend a school that won at everything. Further, I wondered what effect that would have on my character.

What is accomplished in a man who perceives failure as the norm?

If the "progress principle" indicates that little wins instill us with confidence and sense of competence, shouldn't losses have the lasting effect of perpetuating a "loser psyche"? That's what I concluded in my blog titled, "How to Be a Loser" (check it out HERE). But I recently read an article that causes me to rethink my previous assertions. Author Jim Collins, who was invited to be a guest lecturer at West Point, observed a connection between failure and character ... 

"Well, let's talk about failure," said Collins. "How many of you have experienced failure?" They all nodded or raised a hand.

"Failure is part of life here," said a diminutive female cadet, Kiley Hunkler. "There's a recurring sense of inadequacy," she says. "For a 200-pound linebacker, it's having to do a cartwheel. For me, it's the survival swim in full combat gear."

"Does anyone get through West Point without feeling that sense of inadequacy?" Collins asked the group.

"No," they said, more or less in unison.

Later, while participating with his students on an indoor wall climb, he had this conversation with a struggling cadet:

"Why do you keep throwing yourself at this?" Collins asked. "All it does is give you failure upon failure. Why go back?"

"Because success is not the primary point," Caldwell said. "I go back because the climb is making me better. It is making me stronger. I am not failing; I am growing."

Whereas small losses tend to make big losers, big losses have the potential to produce great character. 

In my mind, this is the difference between a "small loss" and a "big loss": A "small loss" is failing to achieve something I know is within reach. For instance: I could have worked out today, but I didn't; I could've met the deadline, but I slacked off instead; I should've told the truth, but I chose to lie. These "small losses" chip away at the inner man and perpetuate a "loser's psyche".

On the other hand, a "big loss" is failing at something just beyond what I know I can achieve. It is the bitter-sweet failure we experience upon attempting to do something great. For Cadet Caldwell, it was climbing that wall. For me, it was getting a bigger label to distribute my music. In the days to come, I hope to try my hand at even bigger things, accepting full well that failure is not only possible, but probable.

From Abraham Lincoln to Jeremy Lin, history and pop culture spew forth examples of men rising up bigger and better after defeat. Where are you at this moment? Relishing in victory or recovering from a devastating loss? Wherever you may be, here are some words of inspiration:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. "

-Theodore Roosevelt

The righteous man falls seven times but rises again.

Stand strong,