At Your Service: Feb. 24, 2010

How did we get to this place? It was the question of the moment. They looked around, into the eyes of those they had been working with toward the same goal. Now the goal seemed more elusive than ever and they did not know where they had gone wrong. They had failed. It is a place that we have all stood at some point in our lives.
The drive to succeed is in our bones. We are a striving species and few things bring us more pleasure than the triumph of winning. We see it in the faces of the medalists and their coaches in Vancouver this week. Each night the news reports the medal count and we give an inward smile that our nation is leading.
One of the reasons that we watch athletes with such fervor is that they remind us of how hard it is to win all the time. They practice their art daily and still fail to win every time. In baseball, a superstar is the one who hits the ball a third of the time. Any team that wins more than half of their games is delivering a remarkable record to their fans. When they win, we win with them and cheer accordingly. Winning at that level is so rare, that we make heroes of those who do. We are less patient when they fall short of the mark – and they always do.
On Friday, I watched the “apology” of Tiger Woods. I had not planned to watch it, but when he took the podium, almost every station broke from their regular programming with the “breaking news.” There was a man looking around the room at people he had worked with for some time, marveling that he had fallen short of his own expectations, letting down those who had believed in him. What was a little different in his case was that he had not failed at his profession but in his most personal life.
Watching the media gather around Tiger on our behalf like sharks filled with bloodlust drives home the reason that we have a deep seeded fear of failure. There rises a cheer when they win and even closer attention is paid when they fail. It is why bad news sells newspapers. It is why the most popular feature in this paper is the police blotter. We seem to take solace in the failures of others.
Still, failure is what makes us most human. It is the source of most of our lessons. We move along the path of our lives until we take a misstep. When problems or errors stop us in our tracks we are forced to reevaluate what we “know” or believe about ourselves. Thus, we confront our failings. Like the athletes that inspire our best moments, we must pick ourselves up and go again.
Also on the news this week was former Governor Eliot Spitzer. Just two years after his fall from grace, he is back giving commentary on the economy. I was reminded of the most critical lesson we learn from failure – to forgive ourselves. Only when we have reconciled our failure can we really move forward again and then we must do so as if we had not fallen before.
In every place from Vancouver to our mirror we find winners and losers. The gold goes to those who have the courage to fail again and again until they succeed. We stand in the place of glory for a fleeting moment, knowing that we may fall again when we strive for the next level.