Can we be honest with each other just for a moment and agree that failing hurts?
Failing sucks. Failing makes liars out of ourselves.
All of us at some time have tried something that didn’t work out. The reasons we tried that thing and the reasons it didn’t work out often will reveal more about ourselves than we care to stop and examine. In part, that is why this book was written: to examine something that didn’t work out as I expected, and to share the learning from that experience with you, the reader.
Before I get into this in too much detail, it is worth noting that what I did was in many respects a litany of failures, however it has culminated into something that is of some worth and value. If I were to cut my losses now and walk away, it might well have been wasted effort. It is as though I am now at a point of being able to effect change. The question is what will happen next. Let’s leave my story until a little later, for now I want to make the case for why this book is necessary.
As children, we fail constantly, and we also keep trying. And hopefully, we find some success along the way. Along with success, maybe more importantly than the success itself, is the encouragement we receive from others. The reality is that too often encouragement becomes devalued as lip service or otherwise no effort is made to extend a word of inspiration because we think we have nothing to offer or that the input is unnecessary. How wrong could we be! Later in this book, we’ll pick up the reason why encouragement is perhaps an overlooked jewel, as well as having a crucial role of putting success into perspective. But for the moment, this is a book about a difficult and somewhat unpleasant topic: failure. So please join me as we embrace it, try to define it, and fathom how failure is as much our friend as it is a necessary part of the process in achievement.
There is such optimism and excitement at the point of trying. And conversely, often such crushing defeat at the point of failure.
Failure. One of the great taboos. The question which I really want to explore though is not how to make ourselves immune to failure, as much as it might seem to be good to be able to limit failure. There is some need to protect ourselves from failing unnecessarily and in costly ways, but even so, all failure does bring with it the seeds of opportunity. This is the true meaning of disruptive intervention, and is also reflected in the Chinese word for crisis where this word is mixed with the word for opportunity.
There is a sense at which limiting failure makes good sense. By no means am I promoting failure as an enjoyable experience. The irony is that by protecting ourselves from failure we increase our capacity to create, to push through points of resistance, and enable our ability to be vulnerable, to learn, and to experience those things that will lead us towards new growth. But as much as we need to protect ourselves from the destructive influences of failure, it is also true that only through the experience of failure can we really find the hidden potential that drives our survival instinct to create. Vulnerability is interesting territory. But what is really interesting is what do we do at both bookends of this experience- both the domain where we shield ourselves from loss and failure, and the other end of the spectrum where we are completely out of control in an environment which is mercilessly ripping our expectations and dreams apart. Perhaps most importantly is now we respond in the events that happen after that point of failure which seems have shattered our plans and stopped us in our tracks. What we do after failure is the most important and difficult part of this journey. And it is also the part of the journey where we can exercise the most control, even though we find ourselves in a place often with the least amount of resources.
Inherent to the human condition is the capacity for resourcefulness. Imagination, grit, faith, hope, love are abstract qualities that we all possess, and too often we take for granted. We get to a position and feel as though we are finished and ruined, but often it is in those times that we are just getting started.
“What we do after failure is the most important and difficult part of this journey.” Let’s return to this sentence from the previous paragraph and examine the implications that this holds for us all. If the journey continues after this poignant place called failure, it would then follow that failure is not final. Of course, this is a decision that we must chose to make, and choosing not to make a decision is still a choice. In many circumstances, it is the toughest decision that people will ever be confronted with. It is at the rock bottom of our experience, and can be among the most hauntingly lonely existential places to visit. Some never return from that place. Some chose to remain there, alive but living a soulless existence for the rest of their seemingly pathetic lives.
In this book, I have drawn upon my reflections, and the first thing I was us to recognise is that failure is part of a process, and not a singular event. Time as a continuum exists well beyond that dark moment of failure. It might be hard to see at the time, but it is true.
Whatever it takes, we must find a way to keep going. This might mean that we have a requirement to surrender our dreams and expectations in accepting a new reality, but even if that is the case, we must keep moving forward.
The title of this book is taken from a saying I overhead once. I don’t know who said this saying, and I have rarely heard it since, but it stuck in my mind. Even searching on Google, I have not been able to find this saying in the lexicon of modern parlance. Was I mistaken in hearing this saying? That could have been the case, but even so, it still makes sense as an expression which captures the theme of this book. What was this saying I overhead: “All backswing, no hit.”
Can you make sense of this saying? It paints an image of a baseball batsman who is taking all the time to wind up in preparation to hit the ball, and in doing so looking spectacular awaiting to receive the ball that is about to be thrown in a pitch, except that the batsman never follows through to hit the ball. Or maybe it means that the batman does follow through, but completely misses the pitch. It is an expression of someone being of no substance, or no ability. In this regard, it might also be seen as a personal reflection of being unable to ever hit the ball and only ever striking out when at the plate awaiting the pitch to be thrown.
In sport, there is actually a correlation between not hitting and hitting. This is well documented through sporting statistics, and even the greatest sportsmen will tell you that there is a lot of failure that needs to be pushed through before finding greatness. Natural talent only counts for so much. Of course, there will always be those people who are much better at something than others, but there is a time when everyone experienced times of learning. Everyone had their seasons of not hitting and striking out in some way early in their careers. Even the best of those who walk among us have seasons of seemingly catastrophic defeat when they seem to be at their finest hours.
I have also taken this saying to explore the relationship between the wind up of the bat and the follow through in swinging at the pitch. Sometimes, when we have been held back by endless winters of failure, we can lose our resolve to follow through. Sometimes even winding up is an effort. Mostly, we get to a point where we will got through the motions of winding up, only to give up at the time of follow through and so there is never any potential for hitting. Defeating ourselves is the worst form of failure, and often it is understandably done because it at least seems in the short term to be less painful.
But don’t take my word for it. Go an look at some of the baseball statistics of some of the worst hitters and the big hitter so all time in the big leagues. The same holds true for cricket as well, as it does for basketball and for receivers in American Football.
Is this science? Probably not, but it has merit as anecdotal evidence that there is a pattern worth further examination.
The thing to remember is that not everyone is going to be a big hitter. Why is this? Is it genetic, luck, application, talent? And why are people who seemingly just as applied never suited to baseball? Is hitting big across the diamond the only measure of worth?
After a recent epic quest, I related more and more to this saying, often associating this with my own performance in my own internal dialogue. Initially, I heard it as critical and censoring. But then I saw the glimmer of hope and opportunity which is hidden within this expression. I want to explore that together, and I go further to suggest this illustrates how searingly deep this runs into our psyche: “Because no one likes to strike out.” It is a baseball metaphor. And through this book I want to unpack it with you.
So lets begin this journey. And as we do, let’s proceed by recognising that we, too, can be big hitters, but first we need a better understanding of what this means.
NOTE: I think this is too long for a single chapter. Ideally, I want to keep every chapter under 1,000 words. Your thoughts?