Embrace the Suck
There was a well-known poem that hung on the wall in the athletic field-house at my high school entitled "Don't Quit". I do not know if it is still there or if it ever impacted anyone else, but in a similar manner to above, there was a moment twenty something years ago that I read it and it stuck with me. Kaitlin can attest, there have been many times in our marriage that we struggled financially as we attempted to grow our businesses and family, and I have said to her "When funds are low and debts are high, and you want to smile but you have to sigh, when care is pressing you down a bit, rest, if you must but don't you quit." .
As I sat down to write this, the lines "Success is failure turned inside out- The silver tint of the clouds of doubt" kept reverberating through my mind as I contemplated success.
As a young man I was so terrified of failure, of not being good enough, that I flat out did not try. My internal struggle with inadequacy did not come through in being meek or mild though, quite the opposite. Those feelings presented as an attitude of superiority, conceit, and self-importance. Take a young man who is afraid of failure, combined with inflated ego, propped up by an inferiority complex and you are asking for trouble. I was smarter than my college professors whose classes I flunked. I was better at any job I had than my peers, even when I got fired. I was always right and she was always wrong in our relationship when Kaitlin and I first met. I could go on, but you get the general idea. If I tried at something—I mean gave it all I had—and still failed, I couldn't have handled that. I always dreamed of becoming a physician, but let an overwhelming fear that I was inadequate keep me from ever really trying. I could make an excuse for anything. It is easier to tell yourself that you did not really try, than to admit you just were not good enough.
The reality is, failure sucks. Losing hurts and I do not believe in moral victories. No one wants to be terrible, to make the wrong call, or miss the game winning shot. We just are not wired that way as humans. Since I brought up being a young man, let's rewind 11 years... I was unexpectedly unemployed a few weeks before our wedding (nice way of saying I was fired). This was a week before Christmas and two weeks before our wedding. We went on our honeymoon with very little money and zero plans on what do to when we got home (that's not a recipe for a healthy start to a new marriage). I accepted a commission-only life insurance sales job a few weeks after our honeymoon, because I had zero other options—literally, I could not get an interview anywhere. We were in the midst of the Great Recession and no one was looking for a cocky twenty five year old that once was pre-med, had a B.S. in Biology, and a 2.7 GPA. Looking back, this was the second best thing to ever happen to me (behind, of course, meeting Kaitlin a few years earlier.)
If you go to work in sales, especially in insurance, you learn how to fail, and I mean FAIL, spectacularly. I worked for a company selling life insurance door to door. You fail 9 out of 10 times on a good day! I became successful at it because I had no choice. My back was against the wall, and I no longer had to worry about just myself. I now had a wife who was still in college to support. It sucked. I sucked. I was not good at it. There were days in the beginning that I thought to myself that ‘I was a loser‘ and questioned ‘why would Kaitlin want me?’ I scurried from house to house like a scalded dog during this time, I could not give up though. The same ego that kept me from trying all those years, now started to drive me to not give up. I learned that I had to stay motivated, focused, and literally spent half of my day reading books like "Think and Grow Rich" or the "Power of Positive Thinking,” and the other half knocking on doors. I developed habits that still serve me well today.
With every failure I had, I knew I might win the next one. I recited "Don't Quit" thousands of times, not exaggerating (I kept a copy in my truck). I learned how to pray earnestly. God and I had many conversations during the large amount of time I spent driving. I had to cling to the hope that the next appointment would yield results (and with that, a paycheck). It was hard—the hardest thing I had ever done. There were days I did not think I would make it, but I did. Looking back, I realize that I became successful not because I learned how to win, but because I learned how to fail and not quit. I did not know the phrase then, but I learned how to ‘embrace the suck.‘ We cannot move forward without failure. We learn immensely more from what we did wrong, than what we did right. You cannot make forward progress without going through some unpleasantness. As we go through struggles, trials, and temporary failures, embrace them—be happy about them—they will propel you forward.
That job taught me so much, and it opened the doors to get me where I am today.
Writing this made me think about a quote from a Tom Cruise movie, Vanilla Sky. "Cause without the bitter, baby, the sweet ain't as sweet." Our struggles make success that much better. I no longer fear failure as I once did, I actually love it because I know that without it, I cannot grow. I want to fail, but to fail fast, and to fail forward. I am proud to say that I have failed thousands of times since the first door I knocked on to sell insurance, but I learned from every one of them, and I am now better for it. Embrace the suck.