Sitting at the phone charging counter at Houston Hobby Airport, I was talking to my oldest granddaughter Kayleigh Peyton (Yes, I love football. How’d you know?) when a young man sitting next to me asked, “Was that your daughter?”
I smiled and said, “No, that was my oldest granddaughter; I have six.” He replied, “Congratulations!”
I always smile when people say that—like it was a competition and I won them! “Thank you”, I said.
“So, besides waiting on a plane to Nashville, tell me about yourself.” Interesting fact: for some reason, I always say I’m a teacher when people ask me what I do. It’s a knee jerk response for how I see myself.
He asked, “Really? Are you retired?”
Ouch! (Young person alert—just because someone is older doesn’t mean they are retired!)
“No, on the contrary. I’m busier now than ever.”
“Cool! I’m a teacher, too!”
“That’s awesome. What do you teach?”
“History! I was actually working on a lesson I’m going to give next week.”
“Well, I’m here. You’re here. So, let’s hear it.”
“It’s the lesson about Cortez. You know he burned burn all his ships to prove his commitment to success…”
(Have you ever zoned out of a conversation? I mean you wanted to listen, you wanted to engage, but, well, your brain just went somewhere?) See, I’ve heard this story before. In 1519, the Spanish explorer and conquistador, Hernando Cortez, decided that he wanted to seize the treasure that the Aztecs had been hoarding. He took 500 soldiers and 100 sailors and landed his 11 ships on the shores of the Yucatan. Despite the large army under his command, he was still vastly outnumbered by a huge and powerful empire that had been around for 600 years. So, he burned the ships. He sank the ships because of a small uprising. He told his men that they would go home in Aztec ships. But he didn’t destroy all the ships. He kept one to send back with the King’s share of the booty. (For those non-pirate literate among you, he paid his taxes.) He might have been a little crazy, but he knew he had to pay his taxes. The reason I zoned out on this poor fledgling educator was because he was using history to make a statement: Failure is not an option. I wholeheartedly agree! So, if failure is not an option, what are my options? Here are five great ones:
1. “Think of failure as the best education you will ever get for free.”
Many people think failure is just plain bad. Many of us are paralyzed by the fear of failure. Failure is so scary in incremental and large context, that people refuse to act and innovate. Try letting go of the fear and embrace the lesson.
At the end of the day, it’s the things that change you that make you better.
2. “Get out the matches.”
We love the Cortez story, because fire is final. Visualization is a powerful thing. A friend of mine bought a mason jar filled with little wrinkled faces. He said when he makes a mistake, he puts it in the jar with the rest of his disappointments. When you acknowledge failure, you acknowledge the need for innovation, initiative, and action. There is always a new idea to take away from failure.
“Only fear what you can’t change.”
3. “Throw down the boxing gloves and stop beating yourself up.”
Failure is hugely discouraging, but if you harp on how bad it makes you feel, you will likely lose sight of the reason you failed in the first place. To achieve something you must do something,
“The Liberty Bell has a crack in it. but it is not broken.”
4. “Winning does not make you a champion.”
Oftentimes, people who fail are unable to maintain an objective perspective on why things went off the rails. They are too emotionally attached to what happened. Try remembering that a champion lets his or her losses resolve himself/herself to compete & persevere.
“The more we try, the more we win. Want to win? Keep trying!”
5.”If at first you don’t succeed, suck harder!”
Everyone knows Edison once stated, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Everyone succeeds, if you stay committed.
Just like waking up from a nap at the end of a movie, I heard my young History teacher say, “Well, whatcha think? It’s a great lesson!”
I love teaching and I love teachers. If you are an adult, and you are successful, call one of your teachers and tell them you appreciate them.
So, back to the question, “What do I think? Well [leaning in close], I think two things never change. First, teachers should spend more time teaching enthusiasm, like your are doing! Our job is to ignite the excitement that comes from within. Number two, it’s ok be excited about your commitments, but like Cortez, remember to pay your taxes!” I’ll never forget the look on his face as I gathered my things and left. Retired… Ouch!
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