I recently heard Yoda say this on Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery, hmm… but weakness, folly, failure also. Yes: failure, most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is.
Aside from being a martial arts instructor, I run a tutoring center at a college and I also help with advising and general life questions. Many of the students with whom I work face challenges from inside the classroom and out. Sadly, many grew up in the No Child Left Behind era education system and have never been allowed to fail at anything. They have been awarded passing grades on tests and participation trophies, including a high school diploma, just for showing up.
I have counseled numerous students on the brink of quitting college or other ventures because of setbacks or bumps in the road. It makes me think of the lyrics in a Blackberry Smoke song, “You may not have the winning hand, but you ain’t got to fold.”
I often use economics to explain one way of looking at how to turn failure into success. How do businesses get better at business? Staying in it longer.
If I want to turn a short-run loss into a long-run success, I have to do a few things.
First, get through the short run. For some of my students, it might mean sticking out the semester or the next term. You have to understand that temporary problems don’t warrant permanent solutions. To apply this to martial arts, have you felt like you will never get that next belt or master a specific technique? You certainly won’t if you stop now.
The second thing I need to accomplish is to learn from past failures. In economics, this process is called economies of scale. As a business stays and adapts, it betters itself through specialization (gets better at a particular task or objective), and it gains better buying power through profit maximization and networking. For the martial artist, this might mean finding your niche (becoming the expert in an area) and building a network of people who support your quest for more knowledge or training in that area.
I recently finished Nassim Taleb’s book, Skin in the Game. Near the end, he mentions the idea of getting better at a task or objective by making small errors (hearkening back to his book Antifragile). He says, “making some types of errors is the most rational thing to do, when the errors are of little cost, as they lead to discoveries.”
If we take small chances, we build our requisite knowledge for bigger tasks. For my students, failing a test can be a game stopper or a game changer. If they go back to the drawing board, study harder, and stay the course, the failure becomes the impetus for success. If you lose in a tournament, focus on what needs improvement and get to work.
I will leave you with wise words from a mentor of mine, Dr. Saundra McGuire. She once told me, “Honey, stumbling blocks and stepping stones look the same. It’s what we do with them that makes the difference.”
What little failures of yours can become big successes if you utilize them correctly?