Failure can be a good thing

First, before I get into today’s post, Dave Higgins had a good alternate view on writing goals on his blog: Is the Change As Good As the Rest?

He found that tracking word counts led him to engage in activities that weren’t getting him to his ultimate goal: a well-crafted story, novel, or poem.  So, he came up with alternate ways to track his progress.

Again, I’d say you need to know what your goal is in writing and find ways to get there that work for you.  Only you know what that is.

(And you probably know deep down if you’re gaming the system.  For example, I have a goal to write twelve new short stories this year.  If in December I’m three stories short and I write three first drafts that are crap and send them off to markets I know won’t accept them, I will know that I didn’t really hit that goal no matter how much I want to pretend I did.)

So, back to this post.  Seth Godin had a post up today: Worst one ever about his first public speaking appearance that was, in his words, “an epic fail.”  As he points out, failure is just part of the process and you sometimes need to get those ugly failures out of the way so you can go on to succeed.

Well, his post reminded me of something my father did to my brother many years ago.  I’m pretty sure my mom wanted to divorce him for it at the time, but I think it was also incredibly valuable to my brother in the long run.

My brother was probably ten years old at the time and all he wanted to do was pitch for the Kansas City Royals.  (I’d like to say that’s what happened as a result of this story, but no.)

My father was the little league coach for my brother’s team.

(By the way, my understanding is that they now have a pitching machine that does all the pitching at this level and there is no pitcher, so kids just have to swing the bat in the right spot at the right time.  I see why to a certain extent, but what’s the value in learning to hit a ball that will be in the same spot and at the same speed every single time?  That’s not how real life works.  But I digress.)

So, here’s my brother, pitching his first-ever baseball game.  And he sucks.  He can’t find the strike zone to save his life.  I don’t think he hit any of the batters, but I’m sure there were a few that thought he might.

He keeps walking batters one after the other.  It’s the first inning and the score is 10-0 with maybe one out and that’s only because some kid swung at my brother’s pitches no matter how far outside they were, so basically struck himself out.

My mother is screaming at my father from the sidelines to take my brother out of the game.  My brother is on the verge of tears.  Everyone is looking to him, because you can’t do anything in a baseball game if your pitcher sucks that bad.

How do you get outs if the pitcher keeps walking everyone?  Maybe throw someone out when they try to steal on an overthrow?  But there’s no need for anyone to steal a base, because the other team knows my brother is going to walk the next guy, too.

So, my mother is screaming, my dad is telling her it’ll be fine, my brother is on the verge of tears, other parents are getting upset and restless (thankfully, not in the way they do these days)–it’s chaos.  It’s awful.

But somehow my brother fights through it and he gets his three outs.  (Maybe that same kid who struck himself out the first time had three at bats.  Who knows?)

It is the worst game of his life.  There can be no worse game.  But that was the point.  And that’s what my dad told him when it was all over.  “From now on, no matter how bad it is, you will never pitch a game that is as bad as this one.  And every time you get down or upset, remember this game and realize that things aren’t as bad as you think they are.”

(Something like that.  I was six, so not like I was spending lots of time memorizing my dad’s rah-rah speeches to my brother for posterity.)

I heard that story so many times over the years that it feels like I heard those words myself.

Because my brother carried that moment with him through all of his years of playing baseball.  I won’t say every game he pitched was beautiful from then on–he’s a lefty who pitched in the mid 90’s and was a bit wild, so there were always those moments when the ball went at a batter’s head and banged off the backstop.

But I will say that it kept him going through all the ups and downs.  It didn’t remove the stress and upset of a bad game.  But it put it in perspective so he was willing to play the next one and the next one.  It gave him the strength to persevere.

Baseball is probably the single-most important thing in my brother’s life.  He played through college and now coaches.  Without that early resilience he earned from that miserable, awful first game, he may not have stuck with it all these years.  And I think his life would be less than it is if he’d quit playing.  He’s be missing some essential part of himself if he’d let the upsets force him to quit baseball.

So, embrace the failure.  Realize that it has value.  Don’t let it deter you from your goal–let it motivate you to improve.  And the more epic the failure, the better.



About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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