“Good night, Dave”
We were standing next to her car, just a little closer together than you’d call “friendly.” She was smart and she laughed when she hassled me about something, and she was the kind of beautiful men used to knock each other off horses for. And now she was standing close to me, with a half-smile starting to form on her lips.
To this day I don’t know why I didn’t kiss her. I vaguely remember some feeling that it was too forward on a first date, which is such a mind-numbingly stupid thing to think that I’m positive it was the reason. Instead I leaned in and gave her the kind of chaste hug you use on the 95 year old lady at church with the uncomfortably low hanging breasts. Then I turned and walked away to my car, hoping there’d be a drive by shooting in the parking lot so I could be an innocent bystander.
Since literally every single person reading this has a higher emotional IQ than I do it will surprise none of you to learn that after that pathetic display things never really went anywhere with the object of my affection.
I bring up that story not to allow you the pleasure of laughing at me - that’s just a fun side benefit - but to make a point about the way that I remember it. Specifically, that I remember everything about it. What she was wearing, where we were standing, what we’d eaten for dinner earlier. Now as will no doubt shock you to your very core, I’ve also attempted to kiss women and gotten Floyd Mayweather-esque head movement in response. And about those incidents I remember… nothing.
“So we have much less regret when we try and fail than when we just don’t try? Wow, what a brilliant fucking insight into the human condition, Dostoyevsky, someone get a Pulitzer jury on the phone.”
Just give me a second, I’m going somewhere with this.
The issue is that Americans love sayings like “You will miss 100% of the shots you never take”, but we only love them when they’re said by people like Wayne Gretzky, the greatest hockey player who ever lived. This is the real reason that things like “everybody gets a trophy” youth sports leagues are so insidious, not because it’s teaching them it’s okay to be a loser, but because it’s teaching them they are actually still a winner.
Teaching kids that there is honor in failure as long as you fought as you hard as you possibly could would be a perfectly fine lesson to teach them, but parents don’t teach that to their children because they don’t believe it themselves. Our society has utterly bought into the idea that your success or failure is a perfectly good proxy for your worth as a person, which is why an odious old windbag like Donald Trump is not pelted with vegetables every time he shows his combover in public.
For as long as we’re able, we avoid any possibility of letting our kids really try something and completely fail. Good luck comforting a sobbing child with quaint notions like “dignity” and “character” when absolutely every single message we (and they) take in every single day from sports, Hollywood, politics, business, and the media is that any sin will be forgiven of a winner, and no amount of effort will redeem a loser.
Fortunately by adulthood they have completely internalized this message and are now ready to enter a world in which their self-worth is determined by something over which they have distinctly limited control.
“But your success or failure are all in your hands! You just have to be willing to do what it takes!”
Christ, give it a rest Tony Robbins. No it’s not. The guy who finished last place in shot put at the Olympics knows a level of self discipline that is and always will be utterly alien to your McDonald’s eating ass. And he still got massacred. Or think of it like this, the night before the big presentation that will make or break your sales numbers for the year and probably your career, some meth addled two striker breaks into your house looking for prescription meds and shoots you in the groin.
Presentation: Cancelled. Account: Lost. You: Failure.
“But that’s a random event that has nothing to do with you - it’s not your fault!”
Exactly. But you still lost. We control what we put in - which makes a difference - but ultimately success or failure rests with a lot of things outside our control. Thus the existential dread that Americans face every day. The fear of trying something and being regarded as a loser despite your best effort because of things outside your control.
Which brings us to Michael Jordan, and more importantly, to the way that he is viewed by society. You couldn’t choose any better a case study for American success worship than MJ. Pilloried for years at the start of his career for being selfish and aloof he changed absolutely nothing about himself besides his coach and teammates and became the most iconic athlete of all time by winning six championships. The point isn’t that he wasn’t great (he most definitely was) it was that he was great before they won, and the fact of his past greatness hasn’t changed since his retirement, yet only the actual winning of championships, something in many ways out of his control, made him immune from criticism. Because now he was a winner.
Listen, I’ve read virtually every word written about Michael Jordan in the last two decades and if one thing is beyond dispute about the guy it’s his legendary assholishness so if you have children I wouldn’t particularly advise you to hold him up to them as a role model. However since they’re going to hear about him anyway, make a point of telling them about MJ’s actual greatest accomplishment… Baseball.
As always, it is no coincidence that this is widely regarded by society as being his greatest screw up when it should be the most admired action of the man’s life. Think for a second about Michael Jordan’s status in 1993. The world’s most famous athlete and top ten most famous person. Raking in nine figures a year. Universally beloved with years of his career in front of him. I said during Michael Jordan’s prime that he could run for President of the Unites States and win and I stand by that statement.
Imagine for a moment that you are the regarded universally as the best in the world to do what you do. The best salesperson, the best IT manager, the best stay at home, whatever. There are billboards around with your likeness. People write books about your mindset and methods. You are mobbed by people in the streets, crowds at every turn wanting, no, NEEDING, desperately to understand how you can possibly be as amazing as you are at what you do.
Now walk away.
Don’t explain. Just tell them your heart isn’t in it anymore. Then go do something you’re no good at. Show up every day in front of dozens of reporters and cameramen who are there to watch you fail and beam stories about your failure across the globe.
Keep showing up.
Read news stories about your fall from grace. Listen to talking heads speculate whether this insane career change could be stemming from your guilt about your father’s recent murder. Cash paychecks for less than a tenth of what you’ve ever made in your career.
Show up early to work.
Watch people you knew and worked with and respected in your old career make fun of your struggles in your new one. Be told by every expert that you are unlikely to ever be anything but below average to mediocre.
Stay late at work.
Keep failing and failing and failing and failing. Publicly and with the whole world watching. Know that everyone in the world thinks you are completely insane to have given up your old life for this. Do not stop.
In our society, “I’m looking forward to the challenge” ranks only behind “winning is the most important thing” in the category of lies that media-savvy dickhead athletes say to reporters for endorsement purposes. Go ahead and try to imagine Kobe Bryant or Sydney Crosby or Calvin Johnson taking up boxing and getting their asses kicked soundly multiple times in two years. MJ took on a challenge which he was virtually assured to fail, and fail spectacularly; but since he wanted to and didn’t care what anyone thought, he did it anyway. This willingness to humble himself while pursuing a pipe dream is now considered a kind of unsightly blemish on his career, the sort of thing polite people avoid mentioning. Meanwhile, MJ mercilessly berating and often physically assaulting basketball teammates who disappointed him are idolized by Americans who know that his barely concealed sociopathy was just an expression of his “burning desire to win.” It’s almost certainly never occurred to any of the middle managers who have Jordan posters up in their garage that the not giving a shit part of MJ that let him ignore every other human being on the planet’s mockery while he failed at baseball was far more important to his success than the not giving a shit part that let him treat his teammates like R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket. Not only was it more important for his success, it also happened to be a more noble and dignified manifestation of that part of his personality.
What all this means is that one of the numerous reasons this country is headed down the shitter is our a priori acceptance that when you have failed at something that is bad and when you have succeeded at something, that is good. Not only is this morally lacking, but more pragmatically it makes real success nearly impossible, because no one succeeds without failure. And commercials like this don’t help - because like I said, it shows the consensus greatest player of all time talking about his failures at basketball; failures the rest of the universe could only dream of being successful enough to have. Believe me, children are not nearly as practiced as you are at ignoring the obvious, and will not miss the implications of this apparent mixed message.
Ever encourage your kids to do something you thought them virtually certain to fail at? Lemme guess:
“If they fail they’ll be devastated and angry!”
Why? That YOU feel that way when you fail has nothing to do with the reality of failure, it has to do with you buying into society’s message that having failed at something makes you a failure. Practicing failure is one of the healthiest things a kid can do.
Do you make a point of praising them based on their effort regardless of the outcome? How about talking about your admiration for people that “failed” but gave it everything they had?
I’m not saying to only ever put your child in no-win situations. I’m saying that considerations like “Is this worthwhile, or fun, or important”, need to be much higher in your mind than “Do I think they can do this?” (Which is good, since you suck at evaluating that anyway.)
Look failing hurts. I get that. I’m not in any way promising that exposing your kid to failing will not result in crying kids, and sad kids, and tantrum throwing kids, and all kinds of other bullshit that I plan to get a vasectomy to avoid dealing with. What I’m asking is that since we all pay lip service to the importance of being willing to fail, and since getting used to failure is the surest way to learn that failure is not the end of the world, can you put up with the discomfort of those moments in order to teach them something important about life?
Your parents mostly couldn’t, which is why this country is ⅔ owned by the Chinese. Hopefully you can do better.