- “No matter what life throws at you…Or where you throw yourself…Just keep calm…And roll with it.” – Buzzfeed
Don’t fight it, hide it or excuse it. Just roll with it. Roll with those punches of failure. And just sometimes the outcome is even better than the initial intention.
Buzzfeed’s catalogued a trove of examples in its piece “21 People Who Really Made The Best Of A Bad Situation”. I thought that I would post it today on the opening of London Fashion Week since one of the best examples of flair and panache is the catwalk crash above.
- “Miracles can be explained. It’s the explanations that are miraculous.” – Chet Raymo quotes British cartographer Tim Robinson in his post Wonder-full
Chet Raymo’s birthday today is an opportune time to re-visit his excellent blog “Science Musings” where he regularly delves into the failure-ridden, if not failure-driven world, of science. People sometime decry science for trying to have all the answers, but in my experience science more tries to have all the questions. As Jeff Bezos says about innovation, “each new thing creates two new questions.”
As a very high level short list, for example, Live Science recently published a piece “The 9 Biggest Unsolved Mysteries in Physics”
- Is there order in chaos?
- Is strong theory correct?
- How do measurements collapse quantum wave functions?
- What is the fate of the universe?
- Why is there more matter than antimatter?
- Are there parallel universes?
- Why is there an arrow of time?
- What is dark matter?
- What is dark energy?
These questions don’t just underscore our failures to understand, but they also intensify the appreciation for the miracles that make our universe what it is.
- "My suspicion is that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose." – J. B. S. Haldane
Today marks the anniversary of the biggest business failure in USA history – the bankruptcy of the revered investment house, Lehmann Brothers. Seven years on, the economy is just now emerging from the damage and people are still scratching their heads about the silver linings to this fiasco.
Everyone who applauds the capitalist system portrays it as a meritocracy of competition where success rises on its merits and failures are removed from the system. Unfortunately, the individuals most responsible for failure are the ones most insulated from its embrace in the modern day perversion of capitalism that most Western countries operate. Stakeholders have engineered complexity and interdependence into the system so that they can plays a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose game where they are inoculated against failure. An NBC report “Too big to fail often means too big for jail” analyses…
- "’Deterring future crimes can’t be accomplished simply through fines or negotiated financial settlements – which many banks regard as the cost of doing business,’ Phil Angelides, who chaired the government commission that investigated the financial crisis…‘Senior executives need to know that if they violate the law, there will be real consequences.’ There’s no one single reason for the dearth of high-profile criminal convictions. Some prosecutors have argued that, in some cases, the crimes related to the financial meltdown of 2008 were too complex to pin on individuals. In others, they argued, the law had not kept up with the complex financial engineering that brought about the crisis.”
Complexity is often the result of running from failure. Instituting back-up to the back-ups, intricately intertwined interconnections, a superabundance of processes many of which do little except operate on other processes. All in the vain aspiration to avert any failure. Of course, the result is a modicum of short-term stability at the expense of a much deeper and broader fragility. In the end, the faulty components are hidden from view and shielded from accountability.
- “How did we end up here? This place is horrible” – opening line in “Birdman”
Another flying film about failure. Right from the get-go, “Birdman” reveals its embrace of failure. From its sub-title, “Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance” to its opening line (above).
The protagonist, Riggan, is a this “washed up comic book character” fighting an actor’s death of dreams. As I’ve written, the best antidote for dearly departed dreams a new ones. In Riggan’s case, a return to the authenticity of stage acting…
- “To me… this is – God. This is my career, this is my chance to do some work that actually means something.”
Riggan endures virtually every imaginable calamitous life failure – marriage, career, finances, parenting, psychological. It is sort of an grown-up, cinematic “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”. Yet throughout his Jobian travails, Riggan’s biggest successes stem directly from his biggest failures – losing a lead actor at the last minute, showdown with his estranged daughter, a wildly dramatic and desperate change in – shall we say – stage direction on opening night. And a comical incident where he is locked out of the theatre and lives what must be the ultimate and most widely shared actor nightmare.
One of my favourite scenes is actually another fellow actor’s commentary on her own dream demise. She highlights a fatal hazard to dreams that few people consider…when they come true. Lesley laments…
- “I’m pathetic. You know, I’ve dreamt of being a Broadway actress since I was a little kid. And now I’m here. And I’m not a Broadway actress. I’m still just a little kid. And I keep waiting for someone to tell me I made it.”
“Brace for impact!”
It’s a shame some pilot doesn’t come over the loudspeaker of life when the crash of failure is imminent. Possibly the most dramatic plummet a person can endure is the spiralling failure of addiction. And yet, the most successful treatment ever devised for addicts, the AA’s 12 Steps, starts with embracing that failure. Even after years or even decades of non-addictive behaviour, the individual must always embrace their addiction with the ritual salutation, “My name is…and I am an addict.” Moreover, conventional wisdom indicates that the most typical starting point for recovery is the very nadir of failure…”rock bottom”.
September is Alcohol and Addiction Awareness Month. The Oscar-nominated performance of Denzel Washington in the film “Flight” takes us on a ride of avoiding failure’s embrace. With lies, coping strategies, sacrifices, and hazards. In the end, the harrowing first scene serves as a metaphor for the embrace of failure. Don’t fight the broken part, but embrace it and fly according to its limitations. Even if that means turning your life upside down. As Denzel’s character Whip did.
The US Tennis Open opens this week. One of the classic books articulating the spirit of embracing failure in sport is “The Inner Game of Tennis” by W Timothy Gallwey (which my wife, as it happens, just read this summer break to help with her golf game). Here are a few ace lobs of wisdom to help you in your game…
- “When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as ‘rootless and stemless.’ We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear..”
- “Once one recognizes the value of having difficult obstacles to overcome, it is a simple matter to see the true benefit that can be gained from competitive sports. In tennis who is it that provides a person with the obstacles he needs in order to experience his highest limits? His opponent, of course! Then is your opponent a friend or an enemy? He is a friend to the extent that he does his best to make things difficult for you…In this use of competition it is the duty of your opponent to create the greatest possible difficulties for you, just as it is yours to try to create obstacles for him. Only by doing this do you give each other the opportunity to find out to what heights each can rise.”
- MARK – I gave up everything for you.
- BECKY – Don’t bullshit me Mark, you don’t do a damn thing for anyone else. Ever. You’d leave me in a heartbeat if you could but you’re not good enough. You only run with me because it means you can finally feel good about yourself again.
Like father, like daughter. Our daughter, Isley, makes her latest stage triumph at the Edinburgh Fringe with a play all about triumph…and not just its failure, but embracing that failure. Isley’s play “Tether” wins the dramatic arts triathlon being insightful, funny and uplifting all at the same time. It is a mind, smile and heart provoking two-hander of two athletes with antithetically different approaches to dreams. And yet, they both face the same wrenching challenges when those dreams die.
The character Mark is literally tethered to his dream (one of the most simply clever pieces of stage mechanics I have seen for a while). As his brutally frank running partner elucidates…
- "You know what I feel sorry for you. Because your whole life everyone told you were so wonderful and everything went so well for you and you struggled and sweated and gave 110 percent and you still weren’t good enough.”
Only through his relationship with blind runner Becky is he able to unshackle himself from his dream’s toxicity and forge new, healthier dreams. Conversely, Becky is someone without dreams. Her disillusionment from childhood tragedy has numbed her more than just the loss of her eyesight. The impairment of her “vision” was more than just about her eyesight. In one of the most poignant scenes you will see on stage, Mark opens her eyes to the bigger world and the dreams that are possible within it.
Tether is playing at the Underbelly, Cowgate through 30 August.