Aim to Fail

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

Babe Ruth Was A Big, Fat German Failure

If you read enough personal development books, you will eventually come across mention of one of the most profoundly meaningful statistics in the history of sports. That statistic being that for many years, Babe Ruth simultaneously held both the career home-run [714?] and strikeout [1330?] records.

Crazy, huh? It’s almost as if he were trying to become a living object lesson. Remember, he didn’t have “a lot of strikeouts: he held The Strikeout Record; he failed More Than Anyone Else at hitting, not just for a couple of months but over his entire career — we are talking about a professional, by the way, a person whose job it was to play baseball. Notice how he had a 3-digit homerun count and a 4-digit strikeout count; he struck out almost twice as many times as he hit a touchdown…wait…He was the best because he was the suckiest. He succeeded the most because he failed the most.

What does this mean? It means, to paraphrase Anthony, son of Robbins, that: massive failure is the key to success. Michael of Jordan said it himself:

The Ring cannot be destroyed, Gimli, son of Glóin, by any craft that we here possess. I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Even some random guy from some random organization called International Business Machines said it:

If you want to succeed, double your failure rate. The ring was made in the fires of Mount Doom. Only there can it be unmade.

Now, I’ve heard all these quotes so many times that they don’t really grab me any more when I read them, but let me illustrate using my favorite person — me — as an (yes, I am that narcissistic) example.

I Am A Failure

At this writing, my KhatzuMemo stats indicate that since New Year’s Day 2007, I have done about 58000 flashcard reps with a retention rate of about 91%, where retention = a rep score of 3 or above. Sounds respectable enough. But, you realize that what this means is that I have failed to correctly read and/or comprehend a Japanese sentence item at least 5200 times over the course of two years and change — can you imagine tagging those end to end to end to end in a video (that would make a pretty cool “lowlight reel”)?!

More than five thousand failures. I’ve been wrong more times than there are stars in the sky visible to the naked eye [someone please check this]. I’m just saying: that’s a lot of fails. And if we (royal “we”) were to start counting from 2004, it would be about 100,000 reps with a similar 90-95% retention rate — that means something on the order of ten thousandfailures. That’s ten thousand times I couldn’t correctly read or understand a sentence or phrase in Japanese: I am a failure.

And yet, I am very comfortable with both written and spoken Japanese. I can read, write, understand or say whatever I want or need to. I just got done doing all my taxes without a hitch. Clearly, this scale of failure helped. You’ll forgive the focus on SRSing, it’s just that it’s something that’s easy to measure and therefore compare quantitatively.

Errybody Awesome Is a Failure

Robbins goes on to discuss the number of times Walter Elias Disney was rejected by banks when he wanted funding for some goofy idea about a studio making full-length cartoons, and the number of times Sylvester Stallone was rejected when peddling the script for some kind of adult-oriented movie involving interracial pairings of sweaty, half-naked men touching each other with leather gloves in front of excited crowds of people. Most people would have given up.

Of course, it goes beyond Hollywood…I have friends who won’t go ice-skating with me because they’re afraid of falling. They have fallen 0 times. 0 failures. They have never failed at skating. But they also can’t skate…at all. In fact, I imagine the best skaters have also fallen the most times.

Arguably, a lot of our fear of failure most likely stems from how schools punish it. Schools promote avoidance of failure. This is a recipe for mediocrity. No meaningful success seems to come without hearty doses of failure. Failure needs to be celebrated. It needs to be sought actively. Failure is what needs to be for dinner.

I love blaming everything on school. But then, most of us did spent the greater part of our waking lives from toddlerhood to early adulthood either in school or in preparation to go to school or travelling to and from school or doing homework for school; schools have plenty to answer for; they can’t bait with compulsory attendance and then switch to learner-parent responsibility forever; they can’t keep waiting until someone gets killed and then feign shock at the “discovery” that they’re a breeding ground for violence. I mean, am I the only one who thinks that school shootings are actually surprisingly rare? Off topic. Anyway…

So how can you start failing? I think the thing is simply to find something you can crank at. Find or build a mechanism that allows you to fail a lot. Perhaps three figures minimum, possibly and preferably 4, 5, 6, maybe even 7+. Chances are, this mechanism will also allow you to succeed — in fact, it’s more or less guaranteed to bring you success…eventually.

Read the rest of the essay here: