Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Benefits of Failure

To use the words “benefit” and “failure” in the same sentence probably qualifies as an oxymoron.  Like any good lesson in life, however, the things that we are afraid of the most often give us the best insights.
I have come to realize that we all avoid failure as much as possible.  It’s almost a kind of taboo subject that gets swept under the carpet.  In our culture nobody wants to admit that they made a mistake or that they were wrong.  Why is this?  Is failure really that bad?
It seems like it is bad.  After all, who can deny the feelings of disappointment and disillusion when something doesn’t go our way, or even the harsh feeling of despair and regret when we really crash and burn.  Why does life treat us so badly?  Don’t we deserve better?
No we don’t!  We deserve absolute honesty in everything we do.  If that means failure instead of false praise, then so be it.  If that means that we have to admit that we lost, or that we were sub-standard, then so be it.  If that means that on that day we just missed out, then so be it.  Don’t gripe, don’t moan, don’t throw a fit!  Be happy that you have just received a lesson that you need to learn!!
I received this lesson for the first time when I was 9 years old.  I had been very successful at school, passing every test, getting top grades, being on the sports teams, getting praise from the teachers…
I thought karate was going to be the same...until I took my green belt test.  I stepped forwards when my sensei called my name, expecting to receive my belt.  Instead, I was shut down and demoralized with that one word, “FAIL!”
Absolute shock!  I was still an orange belt, I had to wait three more months to test again, I was not good enough!
This was the first time that I had failed at anything, and as it turned out I failed in karate three more times on my way to the black belt, before I finally made it on December 5th, 1987 (a day I will never forget based on the hardship that led up to that occasion.)
How could I fail? I thought I was better than that.  Well, as it has turned out, karate has shown me over the years that I’m not really that good at anything.  I just get ahead of myself at times and think that I know something, which basically means that I am a little stubborn, and that on occasion I can be a little too self-confident.
I needed to learn humility!  Karate continues to teach me this quality.  My failures along my karate journey were exactly what I needed, and they have definitely taught me some very valuable life lessons!  Thanks to these hard lessons, I have come to realize that failure can actually be a good thing, despite the fact that it doesn't feel very good at the time.  As long as you learn the lesson that failure brings, the experience is valuable, but if you stubbornly refuse to face up to yourself, then the lesson will have to be repeated again and again until you notice.
When I first met my most influential sensei, Master Hirokazu Kanazawa, he wrote a piece of calligraphy for me that has inspired me in my life on so many occasions I have lost count.  What he wrote in Japanese translates as,
"Never be afraid of failure, if you try your best."
I am very thankful for my sensei's wisdom and I hope that his words will inspire you too.