Four Points in Black and White

success_failureContrary to what philosophers and psychologists think, life is really black or white.

Success or failure.

You can’t “almost” win a football game. You can’t “almost” get published. You either win the game or you don’t. You either get published or you don’t.

Yes, there are ever-increasing varieties of gray and cadet blue floating around between the two, allowing us to find a comfortable medium, but the reality is, as my friend Yoda says, “Do or Do Not. There Is No Try.”

This kind of cold reality does little to boost waivering egos. From kindergarten soccer players to ACT test takers, the world’s pressure to be a winner vs. a loser makes the grey evening darker and more obtuse.

How, then, in this truly black and white world, do we find — and retain — a healthy dose of ego? Of self worth? We merely need to how to play the game better, that’s all.

1.  Expectations

Earth to Human. There can only be one President of the United States. One first-place winner in American Ninja Warrior. Know that from the get-go, and strive accordingly. While “anyone can grow up to be president,” know that the other 242,470,820 adults in the U.S. may have something to do with that goal, too. Hone your expectations to your energy, ability, and luck.

2.  Goals

Everyone wants to hit the game-winning run, lose 40 pounds, have 10,000 followers on Twittter. But everyone knows that most times you can’t do it your first time around. You have to lose 5 pounds before you can lose 40. You have to learn how to Tweet before you can invade the Twitter market. You get my drift.


Goals are a marvelous thing. An important thing. One thing kids today don’t get is that you have to do the work to get the reward. You only set yourself up for failure when you run faster than you can think. Set smaller goals. Get input, advice. Setbacks. But don’t give up when you don’t run the 4K after walking for three weeks. Be kind to yourself.

3.  Redefine

The old adage “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome” by Booker T. Washington still holds true today. I’m not saying you need to constantly stop and smell the roses — you’ll never get anywhere if you spend all day in the garden.

Can you be a winner if you lost a contract or a game or an argument? Of course.  Your effort to stay and complete what you started automatically puts you into the “winner” category. Can you be successful if your repeated attempts to lose weight don’t work? Yes you can, if you use what you learned in the failure to try again another way. One thing the ego refuses to give up is it’s drama of having to always be right. It’s all in how you look at the situation. You don’t always have to be right.

4.  Know when to cut your losses

That always sounds like a cop out, but I’ve seen people pound ideas and stories and escapades into the ground, destroying good intentions, because they just can’t stop trying. Years ago someone’s grandfather’s friend’s second cousin told someone that you do it or die. And some people are willing to do just that.

There are times when you just can’t move the dial into the “success” category. It’s not that you haven’t adapted, changed, tried. Your attempt in the first place puts you in the successful category. The result doesn’t. You continued your effort and it JUST DIDN’T WORK. Instead of trying “one more time”, sometimes it’s better to shelve the attempt and move onto something new. Keep the old goals as well-meaning but perhaps not well-thought-out.

It’s when you get burned out, stressed out, crabby, diseased, and physically sick that you’ve gone way past the win/lose line. You’ve lost all perspective. And that, to me is a failure, period.

Go for it — enjoy it — put your heart and soul into it. But give it a break, too.

Practice make Perfect.



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