Leadership, Failure, Movies, and a Broken Nose

I was flying home from a leadership conference. The man beside me was a veteran and was gradually building both his skill set and his network so that he could lead his own business. We discussed failure, risk-taking, and the choices that create meaning. I referred to the book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, in which author Donald Miller, discusses the metaphor of life as a movie. Movies that are worth watching have characters that engage struggle. We align with them and root for them to win. The concept stuck with me because it has often caused me to reflect on whether a movie on my life would be worth watching.

“Even if we fail,” I said to my seat-mate, “at least we make a more interesting movie than if we do the same thing each day without any real risk.” The leadership conference highlighted failure. My friends talked about failure. I hadn’t been thinking about failure, but since the whole leadership world seems to be embracing it, I thought that it would be good to add it to my own movie.

The next morning I went to the gym. I wanted a short but intense workout, and I decided to do an exercise that my trainer had shown me. The exercise involves raising a ball high above one’s head and hurling it into the ground with maximum force. Frankly, it didn’t challenge me from a cardiovascular or a strength perspective, so I didn’t understand the point. “Maybe I just haven’t focused enough or given it 100% effort,” I thought, “let me try again today.” With singular determination, I passed on the 10 lb. ball, picked up the 12 lb. ball, and hurled it into the floor with all of my might. Apparently there are two types of balls: 1.) slam balls, which stay on the ground 2.) medicine balls, which bounce. Oops. It bounced back equally hard, right up into my face. I broke my nose.

On my way to get an ice pack, I thought “at least I have a story.”

Sometimes we put all of our effort into something and it bounces right back into our face, giving us black eyes, a broken nose and punishing the focused effort we brought to the table.

Sometimes that’s the story of leadership. One of my clients said “Tricia, I want to work with you, read all of the relevant books, and have all of the information so that I can step into this next position without making any mistakes.” I laughed. Deep inside, we all know that sometimes we won’t know the difference between a slam ball and a medicine ball until we throw it. We can assess it, be more tentative so that it won’t bounce back as hard, but ultimately, there are times where we need to bring singular focus and effort with the understanding that we may break our noses and get black eyes.

I don’t know what you are encountering today. Maybe you just had an epic failure. Maybe you are worried about trying NOT to be the next idiot at the gym. But understand that broken noses heal, black eyes don’t last forever, and that engaging life fully will always leave you with a great story to tell.

Cheering you on,