Fail to Win

Her claws were relaxed but poised. Her yellow, bright eyes gazed at the baby gazelle. The long savannah grass camouflaged her striped fur perfectly. Dawn was just breaking. The buzzing of the field crickets filled the air with a sense of busyness and anticipation. Her muscles were taut and she got ready to pounce. The gazelle was only 10 feet away. It had wandered close to her unwittingly. The smell of it was intoxicating and made the seven-month-old tiger cub slightly feverish and extremely excited.

“It’s now or never!” she said silently to herself. With that thought, she bounded towards the gazelle. She released her tension and like a coiled spring, she jumped into the air, in the direction of her prey. The gazelle jerked in surprise, spun around, and started to run in the opposite direction. The juvenile tiger cub landed one foot short and stumbled. By the time she looked up, the gazelle had made safe its escape. The tiger cub looked with a hint of indignance and thought to herself, “Maybe next time!”

It is estimated by observation that only about 1 in 20 attempts of a tiger hunting actually results in a kill. That equates to about a 5% success rate. This number is certainly lower when a juvenile tiger is beginning to hunt. The young cub has to watch her mother hunt, take whatever lessons she can see, and try it out herself. No amount of watching and studying will replace actual practice. She hopes to catch her prey and acts as she will. However, she will only be successful very infrequently. This does not discourage her. With every attempt, she learns a bit more. She is a bit smarter, a bit quicker, and a bit closer to her successful kill.

She knows she has to clock her hours of practice and there is no shortcut. She will fail most of the time but in the end, she will get her reward and fill her stomach. She knows she has to fail to win.

Imagine knowing you have to fail 20 times before you win and doing that on a regular basis. How do you view failure in your life? How do you feel when you do not get what you want? What do you when your results do not match your great effort? You have hopes and dreams and have been doing your best to achieve them. You have watched others achieve their goals, you have studied the methodology and practiced them yourself. Unsuccessfully. Multiple times. You feel that something is eluding you. You are missing something. You get dejected. You think, “Maybe this is not meant for me. Maybe if I get it wrong so many times, it is not my thing. If I am meant to do this, I should have gotten the results ages ago.”

You live in a society where conventional wisdom and infrastructure tells us that failure is to be avoided. When you were a child, your parents would say, “Don’t do that. You will get hurt. Don’t touch that, you do not know what it is. It could be dangerous.” These messages were reinforced in schools when the teacher started to highlight your mistakes in red and commended your classmates who did not make any. Mistakes are seen as the enemy. These messages continued into adulthood when your friends and family advised you to ‘get a safe job’ and ‘not risk anything’. Please note that 99% (if not all) of the advice was given with great intentions and loving care. They were given with the intention of wanting you to succeed. Like many times, it is common that only the intentions were perfect but the execution is flawed.

To be able to reach your goal (succeed), you have to try to reach it in the first place. If you have not succeeded in that particular goal before, it is likely that you may get it wrong (think of learning a foreign language. My French friends used to cringe at my Singaporean accent in speaking their beloved language and pleaded me to stop!). You will then learn why you did not succeed, adjust accordingly, and try again. You will repeat this process many times. Try, get it wrong, learn, and try again. In fact, the reality is that when you get it wrong, the mistakes you make teaches you more than the mistakes you do not make. It is possible but unlikely that you will get it right the first time or even the first few times. Think of Thomas Edison’s choices of the bulb’s filament, Tiger Wood’s success contained thousands of bad golf swings, the baskets Michael Jordan missed in basketball, and the times you fell down before you mastered walking. You must learn to fail to win. If you do not fail, it simply means that you are not trying things you are unfamiliar with, expanding your consciousness and context. This implies that you are probably keeping it safe and doing things you are good at. That is, not growing.

I urge you to be brave. Once you know and accept that you have to fail to win, once the fear of failure is no longer present*, imagine what you could possibly achieve. It is impossible to live without failing at something unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not lived at all – in which case, you fail by default. Learn the skill of failing fast, failing big, failing often, and failing forward. Master the skill of retaining your enthusiasm when moving from failure to failure. Excel in the faith that with each failure, you are learning growing and ultimately, success will be yours. Know that you have to fail to win.

You know for sure the tiger will eventually get her prey. Are you able to apply the same degree of certainty and clarity to your dreams too?

‘If you fall down eight times, you just need to rise up nine times and you will still be standing.’ – Anon

*(this does not apply to forces of nature. Gravity is a powerful force. Do not challenge it by thinking you can fly by flapping your arms! There are Darwinian accidents too!)

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