Tolerate Failure, Disdain Apathy

Recently I ran across a manuscript that my father was writing some 25 years ago. The topic: how to engage and cultivate greatness in a battered, and oft embittered workforce. My father focused his career managing companies, mostly in the manufacturing sector, so you can imagine the context of the following line:

“If we are to cultivate greatness in our organizations and in ourselves, we must learn to tolerate and acknowledge failure, and have a fervent disdain for apathy.”

Can you imagine what that statement might have meant to a union worker at that time who was all but *commanded* not to care?

Union Labor vs. Knowledge Workers

I can just imagine the union dominated workplaces, the heavy handed bosses who sat up in the plant office looking down at the hired help, and the scores of unmotivated and distrustful factory workers staring back up at them. As I read through the pages, bound together into distinct chapters by binder clips and rubber bands, that one line stood out. It still does. “Failure”, the subject of a few of my recent posts, is something I seem to be exploring these last few months. Mostly because I see it for what it is, for what it truly stands for, and how wrong our command-and-control heritage had it. I also think of how good, comparatively, we have it. Many of my staff have Masters Degrees. Some have had PhD’s. Most are still searching for an organization that will allow them autonomy over their work and a healthy place to practice their craft. I can’t say the same of the factory worker of the 70’s and 80’s. How good I (we) must have it, right?

My father passed away in the early nineties before he could publish his book. He had gotten through six chapters and what notes and collected data that accompanied these six chapters has long since vanished. At the time, I was an awfully young man caught up in endeavors that feel a thousand miles away from this.

Failure is an Option. Stopping is Not.

Fast forward to 2010. I am in the middle of a career spent coaching others, cultivating relationships and friendships, striving for purpose and mastery in the field I have chosen. I now have an opportunity to lead others. To teach. And I hope, in some small way, to inspire. Every day I think about how truly difficult it is for me to discuss these heavy topics in a meaningful way. Every day I feel like I can’t quite pull our teams out of the rut they find themselves in, inching toward some level of congruity and understanding. Everyday it feels like someone in the management hierarchy is willfully subverting *every* effort toward a more sane and rewarding workplace. I know this is not true. But it does FEEL true sometimes…even through the exciting highs and feeling of accomplishment our field provides.

Caring Enough to Do It Again

After finding his book and imagining the “all but impossible” tasks my father must have gone through, I now have a slightly different perspective. Failure is an option and one that must be tolerated and even expected. The hard work, the true heavy lifting, comes in the form of caring enough to do it again. To learn what just happened, revise your strategy, and do it again. The moment you let apathy creep into your day, even *after* a monumental failure, you’ve lost.

Now, everyday (win, lose or draw), I vow to do it again tomorrow and try something new. I do it again – because I care enough about the outcome, the people, and myself – to do it again.

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