Risk Failure

Lately, I’ve been noticing online postings from former colleagues. They seem to be showing a lot of baby pictures. New babies. Boys, girls, older siblings holding the new baby, pets sniffing the little critter, while the new one remains wrapped in a blanket like a tortilla (often wearing a knit cap). Happy, delightful, beautiful scenes. The present moment is filled with excitement. It reminds me when we took similar pictures. The memory I have is more terror than excitement, however, especially with our oldest.

Since I did not have the best role models for parents, I was not well-informed about how best to raise kids. I remember bringing our tortilla-wrapped son home from the hospital and putting him in the middle of the living room floor of our apartment. My wife and I held each other and cried. “Now what?!?” We were scared to death, wondering what we had just done.

So, with hardly a clue about what we were doing, we set about raising a son, then later a daughter. Some of the best advice we received came from a couple who raised a bunch of kids, who told us that the best we could do is love them. Most importantly, make sure they knew they were loved. Accept the fact that we will fail on any number of occasions by saying the wrong thing, missing the obvious, over-reacting, being impatient and more. Risk failure. Practice. Learn.

It’s been my experience as a pastor, counselor and business executive, that people held back by shame don’t like to risk. They don’t risk because they don’t want to be seen as incompetent, should the attempt fail. They don’t risk because they fear their ideas won’t be seen as sufficient, merit praise, or actually be a credible solution to a problem. Some may have a legitimate reason to fear risk, given past experience with a dim-witted boss who would choke off risk (and innovation) with critical words, dismissive hand gestures, and eye-rolls. Playing it safe is often preferable to being bold, taking initiative, or going outside the lines. Especially in terms of job security.

Ricky Henderson is arguably the all-time leader when it comes to base stealing. He would get on first base and then do whatever he could to steal second, or third. He accomplished that feat more than anyone in baseball history. He also failed; lots of times. Had he not taken risks, albeit calculated, and not set out to steal a base, he would not have helped his team as much as he did. He was absolutely key to the Oakland A’s winning so many games. He risked failure. However, it wasn’t a case of unbridled craziness. He studied the pitchers and catchers, noting leg kicks and delivery time to home, along with throwing times down to second. He knew he was a fast runner and could get a good jump off of first base. And he was willing to risk getting thrown out in the attempt. Which, for Ricky, did not happen as often as it did for other players. He studied, learned, and practiced, over and over again. And he risked failure.

Raising kids is fraught with risk. Being part of a work team or sports team is also full of risk. Just living carries risk. Baseball can teach us that the cycle of risk, reflect, learn, practice, risk again is one way we can overcome our fear of failure and strike out the shame holding us back. With risk comes the opportunity to experience new life, deeper relationships, new goals that we had not imagined earlier. And a growing sense of confidence, capability, competence! Risk failure.

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