“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”

“If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?”  ― Rumi

Hubble Telescope Mirror

A mirror needs polished to be clear and reflect the proper image, without rubbing the image gets distorted.  The same way fire is needed to purify gold, without it the precious metal is not so precious.  A beautiful pearl is the result of an irritation from a grain of sand.  Rubbing, fire, friction and similar irritants are all necessary to produce better results.

If you don’t allow yourself to be irritated then you do not allow yourself to become better.  If you don’t expose yourself to the flames of failure then you do not allow yourself to become purified.

I had the pleasure of hearing Jim Bearden speak a few years back. Jim is a decorated Vietnam War Veteran and is now a business consultant, keynote speaker author among other roles.  He uses what happened on Hill 152 on July 12, 1968 to share lessons he learned that shaped his beliefs on leadership; learnings that were formed in the crucible of war.  He was a 22 year-old Second Lieutenant that was dropped onto that hill by a helicopter to join a depleted Marine unit.  That night their unit came under an intense enemy attack and he reacted in a personal manner firing off shots from a 45 caliber pistol at the tree line in the distance; as opposed to operating from his role as a leader to make sure the unit was effectively defending itself.  Come morning the carnage of the night before was visible and he began to feel remorse around what if he had done something differently.  A young Marine under his command prodded him into putting his grief aside for they had a job to do.  Jim says it was an epiphany for him, to make the choices essential to achieve what needed to be done.  In his words, “get over it and get on with it”.  Jim was made better by the fire he was subjected to.

Society has gotten soft, parents have gotten soft, schools have gotten soft.  We do not allow failure.  Our Nation uses Government Bailouts (GM, Housing market) and other overreaching actions to ‘lift everyone up’. We give everyone a trophy just for trying. Parents think they are good parents by going in and fixing their children’s issues, therefore teaching the child that he or she can’t handle it. Schools have lowered the criteria for Honor Roll to boost students’ self-images.

Since when did ‘trying’ become good enough? “Do or do not, there is no try” is a great line from Yoda in Star Wars.  One of my first lessons around trying was a sales job I had early in my career. We had Monday morning team meetings with a roundtable discussion on our activities and every week one guy kept telling our boss all of the appointments and sales he was trying to make.  The boss finally snapped one Monday and said “I don’t pay you to try, I pay you to sell.”  I use that adage with my football players; when they tell me they tried to make that tackle they missed, I tell them I play kids who make the tackle as opposed to those who try to make it.

We have stopped allowing suffering.  Overlooking that suffering is often how one learns to be a success.  It is not politically correct to allow discomfort to ever develop. Since we have become soft more people get bitter than get better. We are failing in developing mindsets to overcome the problems. Success by failure is not an oxymoron. When you make a mistake, you’re forced to look back and find out exactly where you went wrong and formulate a new plan for your next attempt. Football teams spend on average 3x the amount of time looking at game films of losses as opposed to wins as there are more coaching moments.

WHS Football Locker Room Sign

My dad once asked me after a particularly rough game I had in high school where we lost if I had done my best.  I answered yes that I had.  His response was “then your best needs to get better, because it isn’t good enough.” There was no coddling there, a slap of reality that recalibrated just how good a player I was and how much room there was for improvement. There is a sign that hangs in the football locker room and weight room that reflect this adage.

Why do we fear failure? There is no failure, one either succeeds or learns. There is the Chinese proverb – fall down seven times, get up eight.  The reality of ‘do not’ from Yoda isn’t a negative, just a fact. If you keeping trying to sell but don’t; maybe it’s time to find another career choice or take a sales training course.  If you try to tackle but can’t; maybe it is time to become an offensive player or stay after practice and relearn technique.

History is littered with examples of success from failure:

  • Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company said, “Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently” failed a number of times on his route to success. His first venture to build a motor car got dissolved a year and a half after it was started because the stockholders lost confidence in him. Ford gathered enough capital to start again but a year later his financiers forced him out. Despite the fact that the entire motor industry had lost faith in him he managed to find another investor to start the Ford Motor Company.
  • Walt Disney – one of the greatest business leaders and creator of the global Disney Empire didn’t start off successful. He was fired from an early job at the Kansas City Star Newspaper because he was not creative enough! His first company, Laugh-O-Gram, went bankrupt. Walt didn’t give up, he packed up, went to Hollywood and started The Walt Disney Company.
  • J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation upon which I rebuilt my life” like so many writers received endless rejections from publishers. Her story is even more inspiring because when she started she was a divorced single mom on welfare.
  • Bill Gates, co-founder and chairman of Microsoft said, “It is fine to celebrate success, but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure” dropped out of Harvard and set up a business called Traf-O-Data. The partnership between him, Paul Allen and Paul Gilbert was based on a good idea but a flawed business model that ran up significant losses before it was closed. However, Bill Gates and Paul Allen took what they learned and avoided those mistakes whey they created the Microsoft Empire.
  • Noah McVicker, devised a product that could clean coal residue from wallpaper of homes with coal furnaces. However the transition from coal-based home heating to natural gas and the introduction of washable vinyl-based wallpaper decreased the need substantially and business dried up. McVicker’s nephew, Joe McVicker, joined the company with the responsibility to save it from bankruptcy.  They discovered that the wallpaper cleaner was being used by nursery school children to make Christmas ornaments. After re-releasing the product as a toy called it “Play Dough”, Joe McVicker became a millionaire before his 27th birthday.
  • Milton Hershey failed in his first two attempts to set up a confectionary business.
  • H.J. Heinz set up a company that produced horseradish, which went bankrupt shortly after.
  • Steve Jobs got fired from Apple, the company he founded. Only to return a few years later to turn it into one of the most successful companies ever.

Great quotes about failure:

  • “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” – Abraham Lincoln who had his own history of losing in politics before becoming one of our greatest Presidents.
  • “Failure is a bruise, not a tattoo.” – John Sinclair
  • “Failure is an event not a person” – Zig Ziglar
  • “I have missed over 9000 shots, I have lost almost 300 games, 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”- Michael Jordan

Then there is the story of Matt Emmons. In the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, he had a significant lead when he entered the final round of the 50-meter, three position rifle competition. He hit the bull’s-eye on his three shots, then looked on, puzzled, as the automatic scoring system did not credit his shots. He called the judge over, and the target was pulled in to ascertain just what had occurred. It was untouched. No holes. The target in the next lane, however, had three extra holes—holes made by Matt’s shots. His mistake cost him in the standings, and he finished eighth, no Olympic Medal. The story doesn’t end there. Competitor Katerina Kurkova of the Czech Republic made it a point to introduce herself and offer her condolences. Less than three years later, they were married.

Scripture is filled with references to the effects of trials and tribulations:

  • Romans 5:1-5 – Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
  • 1 Peter 5:10 – And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
  • Romans 12:12 – Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
  • James 1:12 – Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
  • Isaiah 48:10 – Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
  • Proverbs 17:3 – The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.

Getting rubbed, short changed, failing, etc. are all part of life and God’s plan.  Stop looking so hard at that event and look forward (and upward) using the experience to move onward.

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