Failure

My favorite quote is “Failure is not an option” spoken by the character who played Gene Kranz in the movie Apollo 13. I did a quick Google to ensure I was spelling Mr Kranz’s name correctly and, to my surprise, learned that phrase did not actually come from him. It was paraphrased from a conversation Flight Dynamics Officer (FDO) Jerry C. Bostick had with a couple of the movie script writers. (http://www.spaceacts.com/notanoption.htm.)

I’m a little bummed to find out the truth behind the quote. But, I am still in awe of the work the NASA scientists did to bring those astronauts home safely. And, they proved that, in that situation, for that group of very special people, saving those three men from the depths of space was the only option those folks on the ground could live with.

Pat Summitt, the former head coach of the Tennessee Lady Vols basketball program, also mentions failure in her Definite Dozen Rules for Success. Rule number twelve is “handle success like you handle failure” (http://www.patsummitt.org/sites/www/Uploads/files/Definite_Dozen.pdf). For those of you that follow women’s basketball (and I encourage more of you to check it out!), you know that Pat did not have many failures in her professional life. In fact, she is the winningest NCAA basketball coach of all times – men AND women. Unfortunately, in 2011 Pat was diagnosed with early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s Type, and after stepping down from her head coach position in 2012, she is now learning how to cope in a new way of life both professionally and personally.

When I first heard this news I was devastated. Pat is my age – actually 5 days older! She has all of that knowledge! All of those memories of championships! The relationships she built with some of the best women basketball minds in the world! All of that gone. But slowly …cruelly. I cannot imagine how anyone can deal with the hideous blow of Alzheimer’s, but especially someone with the legacy and future of Pat Summitt. Then I remembered rule twelve. If being struck with Alzheimer’s can be considered a “failure”, Pat is handling it as she has every success in her life – with grace and dignity.

Two very different views of “failure” and yet both make perfect sense to me. The way you look at it is all based on the situation. Bringing the astronauts home alive meant that failure would not be tolerated or even considered. It was truly not an option. But failure on the basketball court is not nearly as devastating in the big picture (unless it’s that damn UCONN doing the winning). The players must learn to deal with losses publicly the same way they do the victories – with grace and dignity – and maybe a few tears.

Is failure still not an option for me? Nope, I can handle failure. I certainly don’t like it when it happens, and I may be pissed as hell, but I eventually work through it and head off to a new success. And after all is said and done, I find that I almost always learn something from the failure. Like what NOT to do again 🙂

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