Failure is an opportunity.
If you blame someone else,
there is no end to the blame.
Therefore, the Master
fulfills her obligations
and corrects her own mistakes.
She does what she needs to do
and demands nothing of others.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 79, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
As I have mentioned before, I have been tutoring a little girl, who is now 5, for the last two years. Today’s chapter reminds me of conversations that I have had with her a lot. She is a strong-willed little girl. I like strong wills. She reminds me a lot of my own daughter who was also strong-willed. One thing this little girl does not like is failure. She doesn’t like to make mistakes. And doesn’t like it when I correct her. She is, of course, wanting to please her parents, who are very interested in making sure she gets a good education from an early age. That is where my services came in. But, I do know she is really feeling the pressure to succeed. And sometimes, perhaps a lot of the time, I want to help to ease that pressure. There is no reason for a 5 year old to be getting stressed out about school. So, when she gets stressed, she gets upset. Mad. That is how she would put it. “I am so mad at you right now, Chuck.” Yes, I hear that quite frequently when I point out that she has made a mistake and I want her to get it right.
My mantra to her, that thankfully always puts a smile on her face, is to tell her that instead of getting upset or mad when she makes a mistake, she needs to put on a smile. Because making mistakes means you are getting ready to learn something. If she always knew the correct answers when I asked her something, if she always knew how to solve any problem I gave her, she would learn nothing. You can only learn by making mistakes. And learning from them. That is why I come to see her every day, five days a week. So she can make mistakes and I can help her to correct them.
I recount this little anecdote, not because I want to treat my readers as children, but because I don’t want you to behave like children. We are adults. And we still make mistakes. All the time. When we are adults we need to behave like adults when we fail. We need to recognize that failure is an opportunity. It is understandable when children throw temper tantrums. We don’t let them get away with throwing temper tantrums; but we understand why they do it. They are children. They are immature. They don’t understand. But adults? They’re different.
Throwing a temper tantrum is trying to find someone else to blame for your failure. You start down that road and there is no end to the blame. It is childish behavior. That little girl that I tutor gets mad at me. It is my fault that she failed. Perhaps, it is my fault. Perhaps, I need to correct how I went about explaining something to her. I, being an adult, am willing to admit my mistakes when they are pointed out; and correct them. But, some adults act like little five year olds when they fail. We have a lot of them in Washington D.C. You can recognize them when you see them pointing the finger of blame at someone else. “It was the previous guy’s fault. It isn’t my fault.” Yeah, grow up.
Failure is an opportunity. How very differently adults behave, when they fail. The Master is our example of how adults are supposed to behave. We are talking about contractual obligations here. You have made a commitment to do such and such in exchange for this or that. And something goes wrong on your end. Horribly wrong. Now is not the time to be pointing the finger of blame. Now is your opportunity to behave like an adult. Fulfill your obligations. Correct your own mistakes. Do whatever needs to be done. Fulfill your obligations. And don’t be making demands of others. Don’t act like a little child. Be an adult.