Failing to Fail

I watched two performances at sporting events this last week that should tell us how much we as a culture hate failure. We have an irrational fear of failure. We are scared to death of messing up, especially in front of others. And when we see someone fail, we attack like sharks. So, we play it safe, avoiding any loss, and end up average, at best. We are failing to fail. And that’s a big problem.

The first performance was bad. You may have heard about – but hopefully didn’t actually hear – Fergie’s rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner at the 2018 NBA All Star Game. I won’t link to the actual performance. I’ll spare you that much. It was pretty bad. I didn’t watch it live, and couldn’t stomach listening to the whole thing on playback.

Twitter exploded! Facebook mocked her! Once one person said something, two more piled on. Pretty soon people with absolutely no musical expertise or experience were calling her out. When people who couldn’t sing their way out of a paper sack sit in judgment of another person with infinitely more talent, there’s something going on.

I couldn’t put my finger on it, and then I read this report in People Magazine. Fergie, for her part, faced the music. She didn’t sugarcoat it. She owned her failure. This is what she had to say:

“I’ve always been honored and proud to perform the national anthem and last night I wanted to try something special for the NBA. I’m a risk taker artistically, but clearly this rendition didn’t strike the intended tone. I love this country and honestly tried my best.”

The second performance was not a success, but it wasn’t a failure either. Elizabeth Swaney skied the halfpipe for Hungary. Through a series of technicalities, she became an Olympic athlete. Though she’s never finished higher than 13th in a competition, she found herself on the biggest stage of them all.

And then she proceeded to complete the most average run of any Olympic event in history. Her goal? To not fall over. Just don’t fail. No jumps, no tricks. Just up and down the halfpipe with a couple of turns and then come to the end. She finished dead last. But she never fell down.

So, we have two women. One risked it all and failed miserably. The other played it safe and got to the Olympics. Which one do you want to be? I want to be a failure.

We say that we want a winner. But what we’re really looking for is perfection. Don’t fail and don’t fall! But what does that get you? Not a place on the podium, that’s for sure. Elizabeth Swaney will go down as a footnote, likely forgotten by the rest of us but loved by her family.

Fergie on the other hand? She’ll go on to make more music and win more awards. That’s right, she’s won multiple Grammies, AMAs, MTV and Billboard music awards. In fact, there’s an entire Wikipedia page just for the awards she’s been nominated for or won. She didn’t get there by playing it safe, turning in an average performance, and never falling down.

Go back to that quote from People Magazine. “I’m a risk taker,” she says. And that’s why we all know who she is. Without the risk, you’ll never have failure. But you’ll never have great success either. You’ll stay average at best.

I’ve heard the phrase “failure is not an option.” If that’s the case, then take the easy road, the middle path, the safe route. Do everything average. Don’t risk it!

But when failure is an option, there’s no telling how high you can go.

A friend of mine was interviewed for a job this week. She was asked what percentage of failure from her students was acceptable. “100%,” she said. “I want them all failing every single day. If they’re not failing, then they may never know how great they can actually be.”

Our fear of failure has crippled us. Instead of doing something great, we just want to avoid falling down. I’m the guiltiest! I do this constantly! Chase the sure thing and avoid the faceplant. But without risking it, you’ll never know how great you can be.

Do we have a failure problem? Are we failing to fail? Maybe we need to risk more, put ourselves out there and face the failure. Otherwise, we may be leaving a lot on the shelf and never get a chance to make the podium.