“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 Times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot…and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” –Michael Jordan
Failure is a funny thing. It is often associated with defeat, shame, and pain. It is viewed as one of the worst feelings in the world; from losing a job, a game, or even relationship it has this unbearable stigma. Frankly none of us like to lose. It leaves us with that sour, rotten taste in the pit of our stomach. It’s a raw pain…it hurts…and we need to feel every bit of it.
That’s right that pain, that embarrassment, that shame is all necessary in helping us to be better. It’s a lesson…but one we have to be ready to learn. I can remember being a child and racing my older brother. He’s just a little bit older, but was a whole lot faster. Race after race it seemed as if I was losing by bigger and bigger margins. It didn’t matter what we did; basketball, football, anything, he had me beat. Now I had a competitive spirit at a young age, but my rational mind developed much younger. I had reached a point where I conceded failure.
No matter what I did or how hard I tried I couldn’t beat him. That feeling ate away at me to the point that I no longer even wanted to try. He would challenge me to a game of HORSE and I would just shrug and walk off. I wasn’t trying to hear him yell “Isaiah Thomas!” as he rains 3 pointers on me. I hated that feeling of losing and didn’t want to subject myself to it any longer. This isn’t a tale of perseverance or overcoming…for all accounts I quit. I was on the verge of taking the path of Bitchassness, but where I was rational, I was equally sick of the idea of always losing. I assessed that he was bigger, stronger and faster, and without a miracle I was doomed to always run in his shadow. Losing to my brother taught me two very important lessons that I pride myself on having learned to this day; to know my own strengths and developing a plan B.
I took that frustration and was bent on conquering this mountain in some way or form. My brother excelled in all things athletic, but after we received our report cards I found the chink in his armor. For all of his physical greatness, he wasn’t the best student. This was my opportunity! I realized at that moment where I could “win”…school.
Learning became my obsession, mentally training like Rocky did for Drago, I was in the 2nd grade studying like I was preparing for the SAT. Being a year behind him, I had the same teachers he did, so I was driven to beat in him grade for grade, subject for subject, quarter after quarter. I strengthened my vocabulary, comprehension, and ability to grasp concepts…not to be a better a student or to make my parents proud…but to win!
Month after month, year after year I’d place my honor roll ribbon next to his first place ribbon. My “student of the month” plaque next to his trophy and that was enough for me. In all my extra time studying, I learned more and more about myself; I developed hobbies and interests and started to form my own identity. As time went on he no longer was my rival. I accepted that he was a better athlete, because I knew my own strengths and values. Even as I got better we weren't competing. It was no longer about “him”.
Had I not taken all of those losses, had I even won just once, I’m not sure who I would have grown to be. As a result of all of that extra work, I'm able to better understand myself and know the areas that I excel in. In my life my greatest victories were motivated not by the glory of winning but by knowing the pain of losing.
We’re all going to fail at something sometime, that’s life. None of us are immune to that pain of defeat. It’s what we do with that feeling, that pain, that really counts…and as for my brother…
Tell “Isaiah” to bring it…I’ve got a little “Kobe” for him.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Generic License.