Graduates: prepare to fail
It’s beginning to look as if I won’t be giving a commencement address any time soon; perhaps because organizers of such things insist on the guest speaker having achieved something notable, or being wealthy, or, both. However, during Saturday’s Woodford County High School commencement at the Kentucky Horse Park, I wondered what I’d would tell the graduates-to-be, should school officials find no one better to offer a few words of hard- and slowly-earned wisdom. Dear graduates, It is an honor to stand before you today. With my right knee in the shape it’s in, it’s an honor to stand anywhere. Obligatory ice-breaking bad joke done with … Ladies and gentlemen, prepare to fail. You will fail – I promise. You should prepare to fail early and often – and that’s good. It’s not failure you should fear, though. To alter a phrase from a former president who led this country through the Great Depression and World War II, “The only thing to fear is not failure, but fear of failure.” Actually, a bit of fright over failing is just fine in my book. What’s not fine is being so afraid to fail that you fail to try to do something that matters to you. It could be failing to ask out that person who seems to have the world by the tail because you’re worried that a “no” might collapse your world; Or failing to take that last-second shot when you’re open because you don’t want to disappoint your teammates (or get booed); Or failing to stand up for yourself or a friend when a bully gets in your face because you might get whipped and it would be humiliating and perhaps a bit physically painful, too; Or failing to apologize for hurting someone’s feelings because it would seem an admission of weakness; of failure; Or not trying hard at something because you figure you’ll fail, and if you can tell yourself that you didn’t really try too hard, your failure won’t sting as badly. Let me tell you a little story about a fellow who spent far too much of his life fearing failure. One year in elementary school, he was the best player in his youth basketball league, but still got down on himself when he missed a shot – a problem that plagued him for years in hoops and other sports. A few years later, a teammate on his junior high basketball team told him, not unkindly, “It looks like you’re scared out there.” The teammate was right. In high school, his pretty darn high ACT score shocked a classmate because he was, to put it kindly, something of an underachiever. He didn’t take college all too seriously, either (though immaturity may be just as much to blame as fear of failure), which led to, after five semesters, his father suggesting he join the military or move out of the house. (He realized years later that either way, he’d be out of the house.) He was even somewhat afraid to talk to pretty girls without a few sips of liquid courage first – a practice I don’t endorse for several reasons, among them the fact that you’re all underage. Then, very slowly, and with plenty of slip-ups along the way, he began to sorta get it together. (He tells me the process is still underway.) Graduates, most of the clichés you’ll hear from us older folks are true, among them a quote attributed to a pretty fair basketball player who, one year, missed the cut for the varsity squad: “I can accept failure; everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” Yes, Michael Jordan turned out just fine. So did hockey star Wayne Gretzky, who said, “You’ll always miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Seniors, take those shots. You’ll miss some and make some, and the misses will likely teach you more about yourself and this wonderful, mad world than the makes. Also, please, please, please don’t look at your cell phones when you’re driving. Distracted driving is something you should fear. Congratulations on your achievements – and thanks for listening. Now get out there and fail, and when you do, get back up and try again.