Mares: Unconventional advice to graduates

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(HOST) When commentator Bill Mares was called upon to speak to a class of graduating seniors recently, he gave them some decidedly unconventional advice.   

(MARES) When you think about success, you have to think about failure first.

The most obvious kind of failure is to flunk an exam. You didn’t study, the questions were too hard. Or, maybe, you just had a bad day.

Then there are athletic losses. Most of my varsity teams at high school had losing seasons.  We grew tired of the explanation that somehow we were "building character."  But that was our lot.

A third type of failure is based on the belief that once you’ve chosen a course, job, profession or even just an opinion, you should stick with it come hell or high water.  The New York Times recently ran a piece about a lawyer who threw over a six-figure income to repair motor-cycles because he wanted concrete fulfillment with his hands and mind.

Failure can also be caused by forces beyond our individual control. The economy today is shedding jobs by the millions. And the people affected did everything conventional wisdom, morality, and economics told them to do.  But they’re still pounding the pavement looking for jobs.

We can also fail to measure up to or achieve our own aspirations. By that definition, I myself am a three-time failure. In the eight years after I left high school I tried to become a foreign service officer, then a banker, then a lawyer. In the first case, the State Department rejected me. In the second case, I rejected banking and the third case was a draw – I didn’t like law school and law school didn’t like me much either.

I can joke about it now, but at the time, I was pretty devastated. Then I fell into writing and journalism, followed by politics and teaching – through blind, dumb luck, not due to any planning on my part.

I’m not talking about deliberate or reckless failure but the kind that comes in spite of your hardest labors and most fervent desires.

Of the four definitions of failure in the Oxford Universal Dictionary, my favorite says, "to become exhausted, to give way under trial, to fall short in performance or attainment." I like it because it assumes you’ve tried – hard – and I think that’s the key to success.

There’s a You-Tube clip of an ad in which Michael Jordan arrives for a game. As he walks slowly toward the Players Entrance, out of the darkness you hear him say:  "I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career…  I’ve lost almost 300 games… Twenty six times I’ve been trusted to take the winning shot… and missed…  I have failed over and over and over again in my life…  And that’s why I succeed."

In his book LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI, Mark Twain described a boat pilot who applied for a job. He said he deserved the post because he knew where all the sandbars were. The captain asked, "HOW?"

"I hit ’em," the man replied, and got the job.

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