I have spent the last couple days at the Global Leadership Summit organized by the Willow Creek Association, listening to speakers such as Colin Powell, Liz Wiseman, and Mark Burnett talk about leadership. The speakers are mainly “exceptions” – those who fulfilled their specific calling despite their own challenges – and the program itself is designed to influence how well we lift each other up. One of the underlying messages this year, in addition to how we can influence and inspire, was failure.
The cynic in me would say that the conference is another program designed to make money and push a spiritual agenda. The cynic in me would also often be the one to fail once and quit. I no longer look at these influential people with a cynical eye toward the fact that for every one of their success stories there are 999 others which have resulted in failure. Their failures are what have made them the people they are, and it’s how they failed that helped them ultimately succeed.
Bob Goff stated yesterday, we are called simply to “Love God. Love people. Do stuff”. To have an impact, the “stuff” we do will invariably bring criticism and pain, and the more “stuff” we do, the more we fail. When we fail well, we learn, and we get better.
Failure is not an option. It’s a necessity. There is room in God’s Will for failure, as long as it is an experience which makes us stronger and pushes us further down The Path.
I needed to hear their stories this week. I was coming off a new low point after my performance at last Saturday’s race (yup, here comes that tiny violin again). I had a lot of physical pain, and a lot of toxic ideas running through my head. I had failed in that race, and failed so bad it hurt. My pride was shot, I felt weak, and critics were quick to jump on my new found vulnerability. I was told that perhaps triathlon was not for me, and that I shouldn’t be taking on these risks because I’m not good enough.
I had failed, and I had two ways to react to this. I could accept the ideas of the critics, or I could learn from failure and continue, knowing that success comes at the end of the race.
Brene Brown, one of the speakers today, quoted Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt.
I am learning a lot about influence and inspiration and the distinction between the two. Influence can be wonderful, when the message is wonderful. But the message can also be toxic. Critics try to influence from their perspective in the cheap seats, but they don’t inspire, instead saying things like “I wouldn’t do that!”
To inspire means to encourage action on the part of others to give the best of themselves willingly, enthusiastically, creatively, even through failure. I want to choose to stay in the arena. I hope to inspire more than I influence.
Of course now I welcome the vocal critic because I know it makes me stronger. I make a list of those that say I can’t, and a list that say I can, and both lists will help me succeed. Those who say I can are my support, while those who say I can’t I look forward to proving wrong. However, it’s the silent critic that I have trouble with. It’s what others are saying in my head that tears me down a bit more. As I struggle to reach more people and am met with apathy, I recognize my limitations.
I was beat down a bit, but I got back on the bike this week, albeit a bit aprehensively at first, but more confident as the ride went on. As I peddled, I rode over all my fears and feelings of lack of worth, and my attitude became better. My faith was strengthened because of my action.
As I reflect on Mr. Roosevelt’s words, it is clear that we can choose to participate, be vulnerable to failure, and experience triumph, or we can choose safety, inaction, and regret. Are you in the arena or in the cheap seats?