Failure is a Life Skill

One of the great joys I get from teaching Jiu Jitsu is that I have the ability to put people in a situation where they can experience failure. Failure is something that when avoided at all costs really becomes something corrosive and damaging to the soul. In Jiu Jitsu particularly during free sparring or some sort of drilling we can find ourselves in places where we will lose and we get very close to a situation where we could actually be severely damaged. However, Jiu Jitsu includes something beautiful called the tap. The tap allows me to fail and in doing so allows me to actually challenge myself. 

The absence of failure in your life means the absence of challenges. Failure is a prerequisite of growth. We have to find ways to challenge ourselves and in Jiu Jitsu we have this unique opportunity to challenge the limits of our safety without actually compromising our health. 

You’re rolling around with another human being trying to determine how to efficiently and effectively finish that person while they try to do the same thing to you simultaneously. You get to experiment with so many maneuvers and techniques and if none of it works you just tap your fingers on someone and it all stops. You are left knowing something didn’t work and you can puzzle over that and move on. 

Very few environments provide this kind of opportunity. In the school system the stakes are too high. Failure means not passing which is equated with not getting a job and being a hopeless loser. At some or another, intentionally or unintentionally, schools pass this perspective on to students but this isn’t reality. In reality it is hard to reach rock bottom. You lose your job and you get another one. Most people change jobs many times in one lifetime. Most people change romantic partners many times, maybe even getting married a couple of times. 

It saddens me to see so many people being afraid of failure athletically, professionally, romantically, spiritually, etc. because the safest choices are often rather dull. 

One of the greatest things I have gained from my life in Jiu Jitsu is an attitude in which I try something, often times fail at it and dissect what I need to do differently to succeed.

In our Growing Gorillas kids classes, we have kids crying every single day and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I set up a lot of opportunities to fail so these kids can see that life goes on and that people who care about them will continue to care about them irrespective of success and failure. 

We worry about kids hitting rock bottom so we scare them away from failure but it is often the fear of failure that drives people to a rock bottom situation. Rock bottom is often the result of deciding not to try. I hope that my simplification doesn’t offend everyone but drug addiction and suicide are clearly situations in which people opt out. They don’t want to take on challenges because the fear of failure has either overwhelmed them or just depressed them. The stakes seem so great so they’d rather not play at all. 

The truth is you could fail at all aspects of life. You could fail at every conceivable dimension in life and just pack your bags and go somewhere else. Failure to achieve social approval is something tribal within us. It triggers anxiety about not getting access to resources or just being outright murdered by another caveman but we don’t live in that world. The world is big and it accommodates failure rather remarkably. If your birth tribe rejects you, get yourself a passport and find your tribe elsewhere. It’s possible. I’ve done it. I’ve lived amongst several tribes of people across the world and found acceptance and love waiting anywhere that I went. 

Get out there and fail. Fail systematically though! Figure out why you failed but seek out challenges because the clock is ticking. Soon enough you’ll be staring up at the ceiling wondering what you did with 70 or 80 years. 

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