Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.
Kenny Norton vs. George Foreman...it was being billed as the fight of the year. It turned out to be the slaughter of the century. Just in case your memory fails you, or you were never into boxing, we will tell you what went down. At the time, Foreman was considered invincible. He had literally destroyed every opponent that was put in front of him. He was so powerful that he could knock the bad breath out of you with one blow. In his World-Title fight against Joe Frazier, Foreman beat poor Joe around the ring like a rag doll. He knocked him down six times in the first seven rounds and then beat him into a bloody pulp of unconsciousness in the eighth round. When they revived Frazier a few minutes later, the ring doctor asked him if he was okay? Frazier replied. "I wull lite a pissa with anchovy and estra cheez.." It was a good ten minutes later when Frazier changed his order to three extra-strength Excedrin and an ice pack.
Of course, Frazier wasn't the only guy who Foreman beat the IQ out of. In fact, mental irregularity was quite common among Foreman's former opponents. His devastation was so complete and awesome that the Matell Toy Company came out with a George Foreman doll. It was great. You would wind it up, let it go and it would beat the hell out of you for three minutes. A great gift for a nosy neighbor or mother-in-law.
In short, George Foreman was an "ass kicker" of major proportions. Norton, on the other hand, was considered a highly skilled boxer with a good right hand. How good was Norton's right hand? Good enough to shatter Muhammad Ali's jaw. Good enough to put Dwayne Bobick into the land of OZ just :57 seconds into the first round of their fight.
Was Norton's right hand good enough to defeat Foreman? The betting line was against Norton and for once, Jimmy The Greek was right. When Norton entered the ring, it was obvious that he was anxious. When Foreman entered the ring a few minutes later, Norton's anxiety turned into, "I'm scared shitless." By the time the bell rang to begin the fight, Norton was cataleptic. The next thing Norton knew, he was in his dressing room ordering a "pissa wif estra cheez."
A few days later, after Norton had gained some semblance of sense, he tried to explain what had happened. "I just wasn't myself," explained Norton. "My legs and arms felt like lead. I could hardly move. Worse yet, I felt exhausted before the fight even started. I couldn't seem to focus on anything either. I was completely out of sync" Oh yea! Norton also admitted that he was a little anxious. Translated into more accurate terms...he was scared shitless.
Of course, most people can relate to Norton's experience, which is a primary example of cranial-rectal inversion. I also venture to say that every competitive athlete has experienced similar emotions. In fact, I don't care who they are, Wayne Gretsky, Nolan Ryan, Mario Lemeuix, Michael Jordan, or any other superstar. If they are human, they all have experienced competitive anxiety in one form or another. To put it in statistical terms ninety-nine percent of the competitive athlete's in the world have experienced stress and/or anxiety. The other one percent are liars.
Remember the boxer we talked about named George Foreman. Of course you do we just got done talking about him ten seconds ago. The guy who was so mean that he would rip your ear off and cram it up your butt just so you could hear him kicking your ass? Yea, the same guy who hit Kenny Norton on the top of the head so hard that Norton had to eat out of his by for a month.
Remember also that at the time Foreman was World Champion and had completely dominated the heavyweight division. In fact, it was the general consensus of boxing experts that nothing human could defeat Foreman. Then in the sweltering heat of Zaire, Africa, Foreman's invincibility was tarnished once and for all by a loud mouth fighter named Muhammad Ali.
During the first six rounds of their fight, Foreman banged Ali around the ring like a rag-doll. Ali seemed totally helpless; willing to lie on the ropes absorbing what appeared to be a brutal beating. It was not until the seventh round that Ali's strategy became clear to Foreman and the rest of the viewing public. By that time, it was too late. Ali was playing possum on the ropes, letting Foreman pound away at his shoulders and arms hoping that the energy Foreman was expending would burn him out. Ali's strategy worked perfectly. By the time the eighth round rolled around, Foreman was completely spent. It was then that Ali opened up, sending blows to Foreman's head with uncanny accuracy. With 1:36 left in the round, Foreman went down for the first time in his career. He remained there until the referee counted him out. Foreman had lost not only the first fight of his career, but the heavyweight championship as well.
Foreman continued to fight for a little more than a year, but he was only a shell of the boxer he was prior to the Ali fight. Continually haunted by the defeat at Ali's hands, Foreman eventually retired. Foreman's reaction to defeat is a phenomenon that occurs all too often in the field of sport. I have seen people who were ready to put a gun to their head because they could not handle defeat. It is as if winning transcends every other aspect of competition.
This is crazy. In a society that promotes the myth that winning is of paramount importance, athletes more often than not lose sight of the benefits that losing can bring. This type of winner-take all attitudes has lead us to the point where it is simply not enough to just compete. You have to compete to win, and if you do not win, the assumption is that you have done something wrong like fudging on your training, or chasing women.
As Dr. Thomas Tutko pointed out in his book, Winning Is Everything and Other American Myths, the assumption is that somehow the winner does everything right, and the loser does everything wrong. All too often, the message that comes through to those who lose or who fail to reach the top is that obviously they did not work hard enough and that they are not as worthwhile as the winners.
Consequently, when a person starts to lose, we begin to question his or her character. It is as if we see winners as good people and losers a bad people.
S.I. Hayakowa, a semanticist, concurs with Dr. Tutko's values orientation. "We talk about people as either a success or a failure when, in fact, infinite degrees of both are possible. There is a world of difference," says Hayakow, between, I have failed three times and I am a failure. Because winning is of such paramount importance, it becomes easy to see why many athletes are so afraid of failure.
Add to this the fact that many athletes have not been taught how to accept failure, and you have a reasonable understanding as to why many athletes are afraid to compete and/or fail. The simple fact of the matter is that we are human, and that failure is part of the human condition. In fact, being human gives us the right to fail. Isn't that great news?
Think about it though for one thing, no human being can achieve greatness at everything. Generally speaking, success in one field of endeavor often precludes success in another area. If you really study the phenomenon of success, you will probably find that people who are highly successful in one area are extremely deficient in other areas. A prime example of the aforementioned was a past winner of the Noble Peace Prize in Nuclear Physics. Considered by many scientists as the most brilliant person in the world, this man was not even familiar with the game of baseball, even though he lived in the United States his entire life. I mean the guy did not even know what a home run was. Check this out. He thought that the World Series was a card game. No, he is not a communist. He probably wears boxer shorts and eats Nerd Cereal, but he is a success.
While we were out eating hot dogs and following the pennant race, he was probably in some lab trying to refine the theory of subpartical fusion. This brings up another important point the cost of success. At times the price of success may be prohibitive. Especially in a sport like powerlifting where the rewards for success are minimal. In order to be really successful, you have to sacrifice a lot. There is a lot of time and money involved. And for what? A trophy and the pressure to repeat your former accomplishments. It never ends, the better you get, the more you are expected to do. When you weight the benefits against the disadvantages, at times it can be too costly. It just may not be worth it. Still, it is my contention that the reason most athletes fear losing is that they have not been taught that losing is really a growing experience.
Fredelle Maynard, an environmental psychologist, believes that most parents work hard at either preventing failure or protecting their children from the knowledge that they have failed! One way this may occur is to shift blame for failure. If Johnny's team loses, his coach is stupid or the referees are unfair. Better yet, the other team cheated. Another way parents try to protect their children from facing failure is to lower standards. Although Johnny played like a motor moron, he is told that he was great. The kid can't get out of his own way, but according to Mom or Dad, he is the best thing since Carl Lewis. Does any of this sound familiar? Don't lie, no parent is here it help you now. The trouble with failure-prevention devices, says Maynard, is that they leave a child unequipped for life in the real world. The young need to learn that nobody can be the best at everything, no one can win all the time and that it is possible to enjoy a game even when you do not win.
Unfortunately, most parents in their attempt to protect their child from hurt and pain, shelter them from the real world. They instill the idea that Johnny never fails, and that failure is bad. Consequently, when the child is faced with failure in later years, the child is usually devastated by its impact. What parents need to do is to let their children experience life, experience failure, and then teach them how to master it. Oh yes, it can be mastered.
The first thing we need to understand is that failure is not only inevitable, but helpful. The fact of the matter is that many of our successes are really no more than the manipulation of our errors. By accepting failure, by learning from it, we can free ourselves to live our lives fully. True, failure is never pleasurable, but neither is it terrible. What is terrible is the restrictions placed on life because of the fear of failure.
If you fail, resist the natural impulse to blame others, take full responsibility for your behavior. A person who takes total responsibility for one's own shortcomings is usually admired. It takes courage to admit failure, everyone knows that, and everyone admires a person with courage. Do not just accept your mistakes through, learn from them. Analyze why you failed. Determine what you have done wrong and then go about making adjustments to enhance your performance. Remember, success is simply the manipulation of error. Also remember that everyone fails, it is part of being human. Failure is a right we all have.
Yours in Strength,