Embrace failure to succeed

Things are going well with the practice, but I am being wrung a bit dry.  That’s the reason for my dip in writing.  I am putting a lot of energy and emotion into the practice, and I don’t have a whole lot left at the end of the day.  I have always been one to write out of passion and convictions — I write because I believe what I am writing — and this practice is taking much of that passion and grinding it out of me.

Again, things are actually going well.  I’ve finally been able to take a salary from the practice (imagine that!) and have been seeing a steady growth in numbers.  Patients from my old practice keep on contacting me to switch back to my care.  I think they realize that this practice is not a sign that I have changed, but that I am unwilling to change despite a system that tried to take my focus off of the patient.

Through all of this, I’ve learned some valuable lessons.  I think if there is anything I take pride in, it is not what I’ve accomplished (since I’ve not yet built a self-sustaining business), nor is it the attention and acclaim I’ve garnished.  The thing that gives me the most pride is the way in which I’ve changed.  I realized this as I got through a particularly hard day, one in which I did tasks I usually procrastinate or pretend I don’t have to do.  I didn’t good after that day, in fact, I felt pretty tired and blah after gritting my teeth and doing  what had to be done.  But my reflection on that day was that I just had a very good day.  It was good, not because of the positive emotion or good interactions; it was good because I grew stronger.

I was recently listening to a TED talk on a podcast about the subject of “success.”  I actually have resisted listening TED talks because they seem to contain a lot of intellectual self back-patting and are anything but practical.  They seem to be the secular version of the “prosperity gospel” that preaches: “just believe in yourself enough and you can accomplish anything” (substituting “yourself” for the “God” used by the pandering preachers). That may be unfair, but it it is common in this venue.

The speaker (winner of the “MacArthur ‘Genius’ Award,” ugh) was talking about what characteristics of people lead to “success” in the real-world, and she (being a “genius”) noted that the students who were at the top of the test-scores were not the ones who were the most successful.  She postulated (ingeniously) that the students who were largely successful at school were not called upon to deal with something very important: their failures.  This ability, which she labeled as “grit,” is the key to true success.

While I would call this “perseverance” or “resilience,” I see how this is true in my life.  The past 12 months has given me a whole lot of chances to fail, and a lot of cause for self-doubt.  I recently was turned down for a small business loan (apparently you need to have enough money for them to justify loaning you money).  Being turned down felt a lot like someone had called my kid ugly.  What do you mean my idea is not so compelling that you want to through money at me?  What do you mean that you don’t think I’ve got what it takes to make this succeed?  Yet in my heart I was wondering those same things.  This is hard, and no amount of good ideas and hard work will alone lead to success of this project.  I do think it will succeed, but I am by no means confident of that fact.

No, it is not the clever who inherit the earth.  It is not those who win “genius awards” (ok, I admit I am a bit jealous) who change everything.  True success takes the long road through failure, learning to use the lessons of what doesn’t work, what causes pain, and what our own weaknesses are, to give a much more solid kind of success.  It is through endurance of troubles and personal failures, not their avoidance that true strength comes.  At that point, it doesn’t matter how many people are telling me I have good ideas or that they think I will succeed.  All that matters is that I can now stare failure in the eye and see it for what it is: a chance to grow stronger.

No, I’m not dumb enough to want things to remain this difficult.  If anyone wants to throw money at me, I’d be happy to oblige that desire.  Endurance, by definition, is not fun, and I hope things ease up soon.  But after I was turned down for the loan I got advice from the wisest person I know: my father.  He told me to not get too down about this, to not react right away, but to wait and see what God was doing in this.  He told me of the times when things seemed the bleakest for him and how he was tempted to shake his fist at the heavens, but that after enduring the pain and seeing things in perspective, how he concluded that this was for the best.

That’s wisdom. That’s true genius. Endure, don’t avoid.  Embrace failure to succeed.

Thanks, Dad.

Gotta go.  There’s work to do.

Rob Lamberts is an internal medicine-pediatrics physician who blogs at Musings of a Distractible Mind

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