Don’t Fear Failure

Dear children,

The end of 2011 is fast approaching and now is the time when many people engage in a sometimes far too sentimental look back upon the past year in which they speak lovingly about all of the good times they had and gloss over the bad.

Your father doesn’t do that. I look back at the past year and my initial impression is that 2011 was the culmination of some pretty hard times for all of us. I look back and I see a year filled with an enormous amount of struggle and an ongoing battle to stave off some hard times.

Well, I failed and I am not entirely upset about it. I didn’t fail at everything. There is a long list of good times and good things. It would be easy for me to do nothing but list accomplishments and focus solely on how good it all is- but I don’t want to do that.

It is not because I wish to wallow but because I am very realistic about what has happened and I expect that there will be some continued fall out from some of the events that have taken place. When you are older we are going to revisit this time and I will fill in some of the details for you not because I wish to redeem myself or need to give an accounting but because I think it will help you.

When I close my eyes at night and go to sleep I do so knowing that I tried my best. Sometimes that wasn’t good enough and things didn’t work out as we might have wished- but that is just how life goes. My goal is not to be angry about what went wrong or to spend time pointing fingers but to play the hand I was dealt.

That is what I talk to you about. That is what I teach you to do. We have limited control of some things and sometimes that means that you get stuck in situations that are uncomfortable and unfavorable. But what makes the difference is your attitude and your willingness to dig in and confront the challenges.

And part of that means that you cannot fear failure because fear of failure leads to paralysis and to not living your life.

Fear of failure is a more complex topic than many people give credit for. Some people will tell you that I am a fool to say not to fear it and that the only way to succeed is to win. “Fuck ’em.” That is a very harsh response that lack elegance but it gets to the heart of the matter.

Life is a constant series of adjustments in which you walk a tightrope while juggling flaming torches, chainsaws and bowling balls. Sometimes that rope feels a mile wide and you can skip, sashay or dance across it and sometimes it is so small you can’t help but fall.

It sucks to get hit in the head with a bowling ball. Try to avoid that.

I am not telling you to be fearless. Fear isn’t always a bad thing either. That little voice that tells you not to get in  the car with your friend because they have been drinking is something to listen to. Sometime fear helps motivate you to do more and try harder.

This balancing act I am talking about goes on forever. You are always going to come across situations where all you can do is use your best judgment and keep your eyes open. But let’s go back for a moment to this look at 2011.

When I think about 2011 I will remember it as the year we moved. That was brutal, painful and necessary. It simply had to be done and I expect that time will show that it led to a major improvement in all of our lives.

When I look back I’ll remember it as the year your great-grandfather died.  It was a bigger deal to me than you may know. My last living grandparent is gone. I was very close with  all of them and while I won’t say that I played favorites I really miss my grandfathers. One of my wishes for you is to have the same relationship with your grandparents.

And when I look back I’ll see November as the month in which a number of my long term plans started to show the fruits of my labor. The garden I planted is sprouting little seedlings- woohoo. There is a long way to go yet but it is always gratifying to see the results of our hard work.

Don’t fear failure because it means that you took action and took a chance. If you fail do your best to learn from it and try not to make the same mistake over and over again. There is a reason that I tell you that rebounding is one of my favorite things to do in basketball. It is about anticipation, will and desire.  Remember those last three words, anticipation, will and desire because they are your friends.

You will always know people or stories of people who are “luckier” than you. Ignore them. There is something to be said for the line about it being better to be lucky than talented but very few can rely upon that. Do your best to work hard and to be smart about it. Be prepared to sustain your effort and remember that your attitude and willingness to adapt to change can make all the difference in life.



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  1. Mitch Mitchell January 9, 2012 at 4:37 am

    I think we were partially on the same wavelength at this time of the year. I went out of my way to say it’s not failure if one learns from it, or even if one had the guts to try. I don’t count as failure bad things that happened that were out of my control, which included my grandmother passing away. It certainly wasn’t a great year, but I really hate seeing any of it as failure.

    • Jack January 9, 2012 at 5:44 pm

      Hi Mitch,

      We’re in agreement. I don’t sugar coat my reality and readily admit that sometimes I have failed.

      But as you said there is a benefit from being able to say that you learned from the experience.

      And events that are out of our control well…

  2. Carolyn December 13, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    Wow, what a powerful post. I have to say this is probably the most important post I have read all year. I agree with you 100%. This what I try to teach my kids too, but I’ve never said it as eloquently as it’s expressed here.

    You’re right about the Fear of Failure being more complex than anyone realizes. Failure is the best teacher.

    Thanks for sharing this with us, Jack!

    • Jack December 14, 2011 at 12:10 am

      Hi Carolyn,

      Blogging gives me the opportunity to think out loud. I doubt that my speech is all that eloquent.

      But I have spoken with the kids about failure several times. I don’t want them growing up in a bubble in which they never learn coping skills.

      And failure is a great teacher so…

  3. Hajra December 9, 2011 at 10:53 am

    Everytime I read a post of yours I am so filled with positive energy.

    Yes, fear is a scary word but the fear of fear is crippling. But what is worse is that we keep it so close to us that we forget that we aren’t trying to get out of it all.

    Thanks for the message! You are just wonderful! 🙂

  4. Bill Dorman December 4, 2011 at 5:23 am

    If you are a golfer, playing 18 holes is a good analogy to the review of the past year. There will be some good, some bad and some routine. When it’s all said and done (and if you have’t thrown your clubs in the pond) you are ready to go out and try it again.

    The fine line is the definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results; knowing when to change course and try something different if necessary.

    Good message to the kids.

    • Jack December 4, 2011 at 4:57 pm

      Hi Bill,

      There is a reason why I don’t play golf. Takes too damn long and all I want to do is see how far I can hit the ball.

      But I do like the analogy. I think a lot of people fail to recognize that they really are doing the same over and over.

  5. LaRae Quy December 3, 2011 at 10:58 am

    “Don’t fear failure because it means that you took action and took a chance.” So many people are afraid of failing and so they don’t take chances. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut because the alternative will spent wondering, “What if . . .”

    • Jack December 3, 2011 at 9:29 pm


      That feeling of “what if” is something that just makes me crazy. I can’t imagine and don’t want to live life that way.
      Doesn’t mean that I haven’t had times where I feel short but…

  6. Elena Patrice December 3, 2011 at 8:01 am

    Beautiful post Jack – thank you for sharing!!

    Peace to you and yours,


  7. Brian Meeks December 3, 2011 at 6:42 am

    A very nicely written piece that I’m sure your children will appreciate and from which they will benefit.

  8. Dina December 2, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    I like what you said about the fear of failure; I think it keeps us from moving forward. I hope 2012 is a much better year for you and your family.

    • Jack December 2, 2011 at 10:50 pm

      I like to try to be positive in my approach. It makes a real difference. Thanks for the good wishes, I think things are going to turn. Been kind of a roller coaster for a lot of people.

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