Failure: The Pathway to Success
Yes, I am one of the world's biggest losers. I lost the International Juggling Championships four times. Yet I never felt like I lost. Each time I was happy with the improvement in my result, moving from 13th place in 1979, to 12th, to ninth, to second and finally winning first place in 1990.
Don't get me wrong: I wanted to win each time. I would practice all year in preparation and I could see my glorious victory unfolding in front of me – until I marched on stage and began my slow decent into failure.
The first time I competed, I assumed I was the greatest juggler in the world. I had never been to a juggling competition, had never seen what I was up against and had no idea what I was doing. I WORE FULL CLOWN MAKEUP!!!!
I think having no idea what I was doing was an advantage. No one in their right mind would risk the kind of raw, terrifying exposure that juggling in front of an audience of your peers can bring. I think perhaps my greatest asset was the fact I had the balls (both figuratively and literally) to show up and walk on that stage. I have no idea where that came from, but it is a true superpower. In my case, I call it being oblivious. Obliviousman™ would be my name. My costume would have a giant "?" on it.
In today's world of reality TV, where you get 30 seconds to show your stuff, we have become numb to what it takes to put yourself out there. We can jump on YouTube and see people (and cats) do the most amazing things, each caught on camera, either by luck or after doing something hundreds of times until it "worked."
Well, performing a nine-minute juggling act where every second gives you many opportunities to fail really makes you feel the pressure. When you march out there, your body and arms fall apart. Nerves, stage fright and adrenaline sweep in and take over the brain. Years later, I learned this truth: You have to learn ever trick twice; once in practice and once on stage.
The first stage show I was in, the production manager wanted to fire me. He claimed I was dropping on purpose to prove I could still do well even while dropping. This was so insane to me. I was trying the hardest I could every time I walked out there. "DO NOT DROP!" he commanded. That just led to a nightmare scenario of me trying too hard and dropping even more. He told me I would be fired at the end of the week.
As luck would have it, press night was that week and they loved my act. He was fired and I was redeemed. However, the mental torture he put me through has helped me very much in my constant struggle for unattainable perfection.
When I finally won the juggling championships, I didn't care, and that is why I won. After my most recent previous loss, I left the competition world for six years and worked. I performed 12 shows six days a week. I had learned the tricks I used to practice from competitions the second time on stage. I was familiar with the lights, I learned to control the adrenaline of live performance, to win my battle with self-doubt and manage the mental chess game of completing complex tricks while trying to relax and enjoy myself. All the things I couldn't practice in the gym I had learned the only way you can – by going out every night and trying again, failing again and trying one more time.
So go out and fail. Put yourself out there. Try something you know scares you. Make mistakes. Failure is a pathway to success. Without failure, there is no motivation to try to do better.
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