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9 - The F Word

Continuing our discussion of the acronym "Be Free" we talk about the F word. Failure.


Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Zero Percent. I'm Menachem Lehrfield. We've been discussing the topic of the growth mindset. Last time we talked about the idea of enjoying the journey. And today we move on to a crucial and important topic, which is the understanding and awareness that failure is not a permanent condition. So we've gone through the B and now we're up to the F in FREE, which is again, failure is not a permanent condition. A wise man once said, "Trying is the first step to failure." That was of course, Homer Jay Simpson. But the truth is, he is absolutely right. Trying is the first step to failure. You can't really fail if you never try. The thing is, it turns out failure isn't really so bad after all. In fact, studies show that we are actually more likely to learn something better when we're given the opportunity to fail and get it wrong.
If you have a test and you're asked a question that you know nothing about, if you actually try to come up with an answer, even if your answer is completely wrong, you are more likely to understand, know and retain the information once you learn the correct answer. This goes against a hundred years of education where we try to drill our children with these math drills. We try to have our children memorize these words and these definitions and these multiplication tables. All of those things were there because scientists believed, which was wrong, but they believed that if you teach someone something wrong, it would be so much more difficult to unteach the wrong information.
What we know now is, is exactly the opposite, that when you give a child or a person the opportunity to get the answer wrong, to fail, to make a mistake, they're more likely to retain the information. So instead of saying, memorize all these things that you never get anything wrong, now let's try to figure out how we go through the process of understanding, how we go through the process of learning. In Judaism, not only as a mistake or a failure not bad, it's actually good. It's actually the process that brings us to success.
In the book of Micah, in Micah, chapter seven, verse eight, the verse reads, "Do not rejoice over me, my enemy, [foreign language 00:02:37]. Because I fell, I will arise." And I've seen people translate this as despite the fact that I fallen or although I have fallen, I get up. But that's not what it means. The word [foreign language 00:02:49] does not mean despite, it means because of. [foreign language 00:02:55]. The falling is what leads to me getting up. We find a similar source in the book of Proverbs 24:16, where the verse says, [foreign language 00:03:07], because the righteous one falls seven times, he will arise." Again, not despite the fact that he falls, he gets up. The falling is what leads to getting up. The darkness is the source of the light. The failures are what lead to the success.
I don't know if you remember, but Michael Jordan did an ad for Nike. It was a print ad. And in it, it says, and this is a quote from Michael Jordan. He says, "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
Thomas Edison said the same thing when they asked them about the light bulb. It took him 10,000 tries to produce the light bulb. And someone said to him, "How did you have the ability to keep on going after failing so many times?" And he said, "I didn't fail 10,000 times. I learned 10,000 ways that it doesn't work. I discovered 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb." When that's our approach to failure, everything changes. You see, we're obsessed with this concept of the overnight success. But the reality is, Albert Einstein said that somebody who's never made a mistake has never tried anything in their life.
You see, the world tries to sell us the story of the overnight success, the person who just like that turned their whole life around and became world famous and successful. And the reality is it does not exist. If it was overnight, it was not success. And more likely than not, if it's success, it wasn't overnight. See, we just see the end result. We see the Michael Jordan. We don't see the fact that he was cut from his high school basketball team. People look at that story and they say... And I've heard people say this. "Michael Jordan's coach must feel like an idiot." Can you imagine being the coach that cut Michael Jordan from your basketball team? But he didn't feel stupid. Do you know why he was cut from the basketball team? Because he wasn't good enough.
And when he came home from school and he told his mother that he got cut from the team, his mother didn't say, "Oh, you poor thing. I'm going to go down to the coach and yell at him," which many parents would do today. But you know what she said to him? "You weren't good enough. Now here's a basketball, go outside and try harder." And that's what made him into Michael Jordan.
You look at so many people who have succeeded and you think, oh, they had it so easy. Look at Oprah. Nobody's more famous than Oprah. She was told she wasn't fit for TV. Walt Disney was told he wasn't creative enough. Thomas Edison, we said, failed over and over and over again. Steve Jobs was fired from his own company, the company that he started himself. He went from literally nothing, a college dropout, created a company in his parents' garage that had 0% chance of success. He built it up from two people to over 2000 employees, made this huge company, and then they fired him.
If you would've asked somebody 30 years ago, "What would be the world's most valuable company?" and I understand it's not currently, but it will be, give it a couple of months and it was for a decade, "What's going to be the world's most valuable company?" They never would have told you to it'd be a computer company. That that's unfathomable. He completely revolutionized the world's technology. But what's amazing, and the point I want to focus on it, yes, it doesn't mean he was a nice person. Walt Disney was not a nice person either. And it doesn't change the fact that he completely created an industry that didn't exist before, and he was an extremely successful person. And we can learn from a person's success without necessarily idolizing that person as a good human being.
But the point I want to focus on is that you can look at that experience. I know if it was me, if I was in my 30s and I was a... I don't know if he's a billionaire at that point. He's probably a billionaire at that point. Either way, he was set for the rest of his life. He suffers a public firing where it's on the front page of almost every single newspaper or magazine that he is fired from his own company. If it was me and I had enough money to live easily comfortably for the rest of my life, I would retire and be done. What did he do? He started two companies, Pixar next. And he says that getting fired from Apple was the greatest thing that ever happened to him. Because while he got fired and he was working on all this other stuff, that's what led to the renaissance of Apple.
I don't know if you remember. I remember growing up. Apple computers were like these dorky old... You couldn't do anything cool or fun with them. Do you remember the big floppy disks? You'd stick them in with two hands and like crank the thing, the drawer, to close it. What changed and revolutionized Apple was when Steve Jobs came back to the company. And that's what produced the iPod and the iPhone and the iPad and those cool iMacs that have that all in one funky colorful machine. And all of the things we have today never would have existed had not got fired. It was specifically that failure, that challenge, that created that impetus for him to pivot and pivot and pivot, to eventually create all the things we see today.
So if you asked him... I mean, we can't ask him anymore, but he said this publicly many times. Getting fired from Apple was the best thing that ever happened to him. Michael Jordan not making his high school team was the best thing that ever happened to him. Oprah, being told she wasn't fit for TV was the best thing that ever happened to her. It's those failures that allow us and propel us to that next level. It's not despite the falling it's as a result of the falling. Because if I can get up, I've got it made.
On Rosh Hashanah we blow the shofar, and there's three different types of shofar blasts. There's what's known as a tekiah, which is a strong blast. It's a triumphant blast. Then there's the shevarim and the teruah, which are broken blasts that are supposed to represent crying, weeping. We never blow a shevarim and a teruah by itself. It's always sandwiched between two tekiahs. So we'll do a tekiah, shevarim, takiya, takiya, teruah, tekiah. And the idea that we're giving across is that all's good in the end. If it's not good, it's not the end. Failure is not a permanent condition. I might be down right now, but that's not the way it's always going to be. I have the ability to rise up. I have the ability to change. And if it is truly bad right now, I know it's not the end. And therefore, whenever we have that blasts that are represented by the shevarim and the teruah, the blast of crying, the blast of weeping, the blast of sadness, it is always followed by that strong tekiah, that triumphant blast.
We have a similar concept that we never end a Torah portion with [foreign language 00:10:30], with something negative, something bad, something sad. If you think about it, it's a little strange. If that's where it ends, then that's where it ends. It almost seems like we don't want to leave off on a sad note, so therefore we're going to end the Torah portion at the wrong place. But that's not what's going on. When we have a law that we don't end with [foreign language 00:10:50], what that means is we don't end because that's not the end.
If it's telling us about something negative, something bad, then that can't possibly be the end, there must be something afterwards, which I think also reinforces this idea that failure is not a permanent condition. That just because we're down right now, it doesn't mean we're always going to be down. We have the ability to rise up. And as a people, we have suffered time and time again, huge blows, but every single time, we've come out stronger. And that's one of the things that has made us such a resilient people today. You look at the modern state of Israel. You look at all of the technology, all the ingenuity, all of the things that they're contributing to the world. So much of Israeli success today, I believe comes from that resilience, that ability to bounce back after so much hardship, after so many opportunities where a person can look and say, "It's all over," like we used the example of Steve Jobs. You're publicly fired from the company you started. Just throw your hands up and say, "I'm finished, calling it quits."
But somebody that has this growth mindset has the ability to say, "You know what? Failure is not a permanent condition. Just because I'm down right now doesn't mean this is where I belong. It doesn't mean this is where I'm going to stay." In fact, as we've seen, the very act of getting knocked down is literally what brings us up. That's what allows us to rise up. That's what allows us to get stronger. That's what builds that resilience. And that's what really allows us to look at things from different angles and different perspectives.
So we may look at one door closing, but the reality is that when that door closes, another one opens. And that's our approach to failure. On the flip side, failure has kind of become this in vogue, sexy thing. And we've created these cultures of failure, which on one hand is great. It's great that we have organizations and places where it's okay to fail, or we can try, we can do things that are really bold, things that take risk. The truth is, anything worthwhile in life requires vulnerability and requires risk. Anything worthwhile is going to take, not just effort as we'll talk about later, but also risk. There's always some risk involved. There's always a vulnerability involved. And we have to know that if we do try and fail, it's not the end of the world. It could actually be a very positive experience.
But when we go into an experience, our goal shouldn't be failure. And that's one of the things that has kind of come as a result of all of this change in approach, is that failure's become kind of the thing to do to the extent that we said in Silicon valley, if you don't have three or five failed startups, they won't even look at you. So there needs to be this balance. On one hand, the opposite of this failure culture, so to speak, is perfectionism. And that's not an ideal. Perfectionism is not really so much about being perfect. Perfectionism is about not failing, and a mindset that's based on not failing will never produce anything. Because as we've talked about so far, if my biggest fear is failing, so then I'm never going to take risks. I'm never going to try anything outside of my comfort zone. I'm never going to try anything new. I'm never going to explore and figure out who I am or what I'm capable of. I'm just going to coast through life.
And that's a choice I have. I can go through life being minimum Menachem. I can go through life literally putting in the least amount of effort possible, which is safe, which is not vulnerable. I can go with what's safe and comfortable, or I can step outside of my comfort zone and do something extraordinary. But that requires this ability to... You know what? I'm not going to be a perfectionist. It's okay if things are not exactly perfect. But that doesn't mean on the flip side that we strive for failure.
The way I like to say it is I think the Jewish ideal is to live life, not as a perfectionist, but as an excellent-ist. I think we are in life to pursue excellence in everything we do. And that means we should have high goals. We should try to accomplish those high goals with the awareness that, as we said, the outcome is not necessarily in my hands. I can do that which I can do, and more than that, I can't. And I leave that up to the Almighty and say, "Listen, if you want this to succeed, I've tried my best. Either it will succeed or it won't. And sometimes it will, and that's great. And sometimes it won't, and I can learn from that experience. I can pick myself up and I can try something different." You see, it's not just about trying the same thing over and over again, saying, "Well, failure is good, so I failed." Living with a growth mindset and living as a Jew means that if this didn't work in this led to failure, clearly I need to try something different.
I have this cute comic, it's this guy holding a fork that says socialism and he's sticking it into an outlet. And somebody else is trying to pull him back and says to him, "The last few people who tried that, it really didn't work." And he said, "Oh, they were doing it wrong." Einstein said, "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results." If you're not changing anything up and you're not trying new strategies, you're going to continuously fail. And that was not a productive fail. Failure is helpful when I can learn from that experience and it can propel me to do something different, it can propel me to do something better. And if I can learn from somebody else's failure, even better. I think it's going through the strategies that you've tried and asking yourself, are there other strategies that you didn't try yet? To somebody with a fixed mindset, everything is global and universal and big, and not limited to this particular situation.
One of the beauties of a growth mindset, it's ability to compartmentalize things and say, you know what? This was a failure, but I am not a failure. When I recognize that this was a failure, but I am not a failure, that means that I am still worthy, I am still capable, I am still all of the things that I know I am. That particular thing was a failure. I can reassess that. It doesn't mean I have to go redefine who I am and go through this existential crisis of who am I, because I know who I am. And I'm okay with who I am. This was an external thing that happened. I can look at that as an isolated incident and say, "You know what? I failed. And at the time, maybe it was embarrassing, but it's okay because I can brush myself off and I can start over again, that just because I got something wrong on a test, doesn't mean I'm a failure. Just because a relationship ended doesn't mean I'm unlovable. Just because I lost it with my children doesn't mean I'm an angry person."
Someone with a growth mindset recognizes that failure is not a permanent condition. I made a mistake, but I am not a mistake. My mistakes don't define me. We'll talk more about this. When we get to the cycle of the year, when we talk about Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In the meantime, join us next week as we talk about the uniqueness of each person. Subscribe and share with your friends.

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