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Cat Rocketship: Failure, the precursor to success

Once I spent a week watching my neighbor learn to shoot baskets at the hoop in her driveway. She missed her shot, retrieved the ball, passed it between her hands, bounced it off the pavement, and lobbed it again, then watched the ball bounce off the metal rim. She spent hours a day in front of the hoop. She slammed the ball into the side of the house more than once, after blowing a streak, after missing the shot one time too many times, after misjudging the wind, after her fatigued arm became unreliable.

Mostly when she missed, she regrouped, refocused and made a tiny adjustment before taking another shot. Eventually, she missed fewer times than she made it. She started trying lay-ups, and shots in motion.

A kid I babysat one summer decided to learn to skateboard. He lived at the end of a gravel road, but his house had a big two-car garage and a smooth concrete floor. Every night one June he hurried through supper, buckled on his helmet, and circled that garage for an hour. He stepped on the tail of his board and kicked his board into a flip. He tripped on his own feet sometimes and crashed to the floor. His two little sisters darted through his path, playing their own games and causing him to to veer into a workbench or topple over in his effort to screech to a halt.

It wasn't easy to learn to skate. It wasn't easy for my neighbor to learn to shoot a reliable free throw, either. They both failed, day after day, building blisters and new muscle memories and succeeding more and more often.

Failure is the key to new adventures. It gets a bad rap as the opposite of success, but failure and success aren't necessarily opposing forces.

The truth is, success isn't possible without failure. We fail and try again. A barrel rider tumbles off her horse and gets back in the saddle, having learned something new about speed and balance. A girl who hasn't fallen many times isn't a very competitive rider.

Failure keeps us learning. Its spicy allure challenges a player to keep getting better, keep at a shot so that she makes it every time, until she finds another failure to work at.

Failure can jar a routinized life out of balance, throwing the routine into peril and a life into brand new territory. However, no one can be successful who doesn't face each new failure with an appreciation for what it will teach them.