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Winners and losers

A while ago, I saw a Michael Jordan poster that had the following quote on it:

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've 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."

That crystallized a sentiment I've had for years, and touched on briefly yesterday:

One of the most valuable things in life is failure.

Nobody's perfect, and only one person in the world can be the best. Everyone, eventually, will fail at something. And the quicker and better someone learns how to deal with that, the better their chances of success in life will be.

Richard Nixon was vice-president of the United States when he first ran for President. He lost. He went home and ran for governor of California, and lost again. Everyone wrote him off. But six years later, he was elected president of the United States.

Ronald Reagan first made his bid for president when he challenged Gerald Ford in 1976. He lost, but he came back to win in 1980.

Bill Clinton was a failure as governor of Arkansas, and was resoundingly turned out of office. He came back, and won. He was an unmitigated disaster at the Democratic National Convention in 1988, but later became the only Democrat to serve two full terms since FDR.

On the other hand, all his life Ted Kennedy has been protected from his own shortcomings. He was caught cheating in college, but it was covered up. He left a woman to drown after he drove his car into the water, but his buddies and connections protected him from the fate that would have befallen any "average" person. He didn't really confront failure until 1980, when he ran for president on the platform of "I oughta be president." The American people turned on him in droves. Even today, he's widely viewed as a joke, a drunken, womanizing, irresponsible old lout who should've been put out to pasture 40 years ago.

Paris Hilton has never failed at anything -- because she's never DONE anything. She wafts through life on a cloud of entitlement and privilege, and doesn't mind that she's become an international joke -- and a dirty one, to boot.

Even "Star Trek" got the message. In "The Wrath Of Khan," Kirk explains the value of a no-win scenario in a simulation: "How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life." (A bit overdramatic, but we are talking about William Shatner here.)

This should be intuitively obvious to most people, but a good chunk of them (mostly liberal, and often involved in education) want to "protect" children from learning this harsh reality. They ban competitive sports, outlaw keeping score, and suppress the notion of "failing" grades in the name of "protecting their self-esteem."

I've said it for years: attempting to give someone self-esteem is, in the long run, the most damaging thing you can do to someone. Anything someone else gives you, someone else can take away. The only self-esteem that counts is that which you earn, which you get honestly from your own efforts. "A for effort" is an obscenity.

I've failed many times, and the lessons I've learned from failures are the most valuable ones I've ever learned. Thomas Edison, according to legend, took a thousand times to find just the right filament for his lightbulb. But he didn't look at that as a string of failures, but successes: he found one way to make a lightbulb, and 999 ways to NOT make a lightbulb.

Absolutely no one is perfect. And even though one person has to be the best at something, they are not perfect at it, either. Failure is one of the absolute certainties in life. It's not a punishment, it's a simple reality. And to protect people from failing -- by changing the rules, by redefining the game, by simply ignoring the circumstances, or in any of the myriad ways the Nanny Staters have discovered -- is to commit a grave crime against them. They are crippling them, making them dependent on outside forces for their own self-image, their own security, their own well-being, their very own lives.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Winners and losers:

» Guide to Midwestern Culture linked with What Is Most Important in Life

» Number 2 Pencil linked with Misplaced efforts

Comments (16)

Superb, Jay! That's somethi... (Below threshold)

Superb, Jay! That's something I've felt strongly about, but have never been able to articulate that well.

Jay,By far your be... (Below threshold)


By far your best post. I just read it aloud to my wife -- will print it for my children.

Life in a single crystal. Thank you.

I think the key is not so m... (Below threshold)

I think the key is not so much the failure...it's the introspective look at how one could improve themselves or their actions in order to succeed rather than fail.

The true failure is when one does not succeed and does nothing but blame everyone or everything else for their failure and then continues on their non-succeeding methods.

I've been saying for years ... (Below threshold)

I've been saying for years there's such a thing as too much self esteem.

I agree completely. But I g... (Below threshold)

I agree completely. But I gotta ask - how does this sentiment reflect on Bush?

I've said it for y... (Below threshold)
I've said it for years: attempting to give someone self-esteem is, in the long run, the most damaging thing you can do to someone. Anything someone else gives you, someone else can take away. The only self-esteem that counts is that which you earn, which you get honestly from your own efforts. "A for effort" is an obscenity.

Incredibly well said, and accurate, nearly to a fault.

Only a couple of things I'd add, only in the name of expounding on an already excellent post. Our children have suffered greatly from the practices of "grading on the curve" and rewarding "best efforts." The real world is not, nor should it be, concerned with doing "one's best." Instead, the planet upon which we live is kept going by real results gained by real effort by people with real abilities, whether inherited or learned.

Also, by teaching kids that "there is no such thing as failure," we set them up for immeasurable heartache and lifelong hopelessness when they encounter failure for the first time, whether getting fired from a job, or getting dumped by a romantic interest. Is there any real question why teen suicide rates have increased dramatically since the advent of "self-esteem" based noneducation? When they are faced with the stark reality that their "best" isn't going to be good enough, their much ballyhooed self esteem and self-worth goes down the toilet.

A single dollar earned is valued and appreciated more than a hundred dollar gift. In that light, genuine, earned, self-esteem is to be greatly prized. Reward good behaviour and achievement, but don't be afraid to correct flaws. Young kids are incredibly resilient, generally devoid of the cynicism found in many adults. They can handle failure at a young age, and it will prepare them for failures they will certainly encounter later in life. To do otherwise sets them up to succeed in only one thing: being a burden on the state and their loved ones.

Bingo. I have never made a ... (Below threshold)

Bingo. I have never made a move forward that did not result from screwing something up and learning a lesson. "No pain, no gain" ain't just a mantra confined to your workout regime or health club's domain.

Nice post and a sentiment I... (Below threshold)
Ken S:

Nice post and a sentiment I agree with. One nitpick, though. Reagan actually ran for the GOP nomination three times before winning. He lost in 1968 and 1976 before winning in 1980. Most people forget his first bid because he declared just a few days before the convention started. So The Gipper is an even better example of your point than you thought.

Robert Heinlein said it ver... (Below threshold)
Kudos, Jay! There's simply ... (Below threshold)
Peter F.:

Kudos, Jay! There's simply nothing sweeter and more rewarding and more memorable than succeeding after failing. Succeeding is a total in-you-face-MOFO! to failure.

Throught the years, I've posted these near my computer screen or on my fridge to remind, humble and keep myself grounded:

"Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor."
Truman Capote

And one of my all-time faves:
"Excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure." --Anon.

Really nice job, Jay!

A very good and necessary p... (Below threshold)

A very good and necessary post. It that should be read to all teachers who believe that failing grades always lead to low self-esteem, rather than increased efforts. And it should be read to every principal, school admin, and whiny test critic who insists that labeling bad schools as "failing" is a nasty and evil thing to do, especially if those schools are "trying" to improve.

What they fail to notice if that someone, or something, is putting a lot of effort towards a goal, and they're still failing, then honest and timely feedback is CRUCIAL. Otherwise, how will they ever learn to try something else?

Life doesn't give A's for effort without results. Schools shouldn't either.

Jay, I gotta say... (Below threshold)


I gotta say, I have long admired how easily you articulate your positions, but, this essay just deepens my envy..

The quote from "Wrath of Khan" is one of my favorites.. Gotta love Shatner's style.. Classic, my friend..

Tremendous post, something ... (Below threshold)

Tremendous post, something all youth (and the rest of us) should read carefully and take to heart.

One addition: perfection should not be the enemy of good. Lots of times things turn out less than perfect, but still good enough to accomplish the task at hand. This should not be considered a failure, but a less than perfect success, with a review to see how it could be improved next time.

I only mention this because I've seen talented kids get un-nerved by the possibility of being less than perfect, and performing below their potential as a result.

"What we achieve too cheapl... (Below threshold)

"What we achieve too cheaply we esteem too lightly."
Thomas Paine

I agree absolutly Jay..howe... (Below threshold)
Drew Edmondson:

I agree absolutly Jay..however I can't believe no one has mentioned our President. He would have never been in Yale without his family..he would have not jumped to the front of the line for the Reserves without his family..he would have not been bailed out from his failed oil business..etc..etc..he is not the only one ..I'm just sayin....that is why doing away with the estate tax that benefits the Hiltons, Kennedy's ..Bush's ...is B.S. ...with an estate tax they will still be richer than they need to be..and pony up Billions

The only way I became fuch ... (Below threshold)

The only way I became fuch a sucking genius is by making so many mistakes...






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