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Your Unsuccessful Campaign

Jeff Shuck
February 4, 2014

It’s no big secret that I am a huge Indianapolis Colts fan. And, as a Colts fan, I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Peyton Manning, who played for the Colts for 14 seasons. Well, it’s more than a soft spot, really — it’s more like a sinkhole. I mean, what’s not to like? He’s absurdly prepared, a master of his craft, a consummate professional. He’s had four neck surgeries and gotten better from them! I had one neck surgery two years ago and I don’t care to have another.

So I was hoping that today’s post would be about going through adversity, staying committed, and coming out stronger. And I suppose it is — just not the way I intended.

I love the guy, but Peyton played horribly this past weekend. As you probably know, his team, the Broncos, got absolutely crushed. Peyton looked out of sync and, sometimes, a bit lost. He looked uncomfortable for most of the game. He made some really questionable decisions. I felt bad for him.

This morning I was checking the news and saw a bit of the post-game recap. I was waiting to see pictures of Peyton, alone at his locker, head in his hands. I couldn’t find any. What I found were a lot of pictures of him, cleaned up, in an impeccable suit, taking questions from reporters. What I found were comments like these from Richard Sherman, star cornerback of the Seahawks — the opposing team — who said that Peyton approached him to inquire about Sherman’s injury, and did so with an “incredibly different amount of humility and class.”

It is not often we fail in such an obvious, public way. As kids we fail often, and routinely — tumbling from the playground swings, falling off our bikes, laughing at ourselves as we go. As we grow up though, we become more serious and self-conscious. By the time we’re adults, failure is vulnerability, and vulnerability is scary. For some people, their first public failure is their last. They retreat into a world of safety and never stretch themselves again. For others, public failure demands correction, and they learn to forever rewrite their own story, excising the parts that otherwise would require uncomfortable introspection.

But for a rare few, failure is a chance to clarify goals and catalyze passion. These people invite public failure because they are strong enough to withstand the repercussions, and because they know that if great things were easy to come by, they wouldn’t be great. Failure isn’t the penalty, it is the product. If you gather enough of it you have something to be proud of.

A.A. Milne famously wrote that “Good judgment comes from experience, and experience – well, that comes from poor judgment.” I’ve had the good fortune to fail hundreds of times. A few times the stakes have been high, the audience has been large, the repercussions have been widespread, and the impact has been humbling. It is never easy, but it certainly has been constructive. While I wouldn’t have said this way until Sunday, what I’ve learned is that the best thing to do after failure is to hit the shower, put a nice suit on, and face the music. The scary stuff is in your head, and the only real obstacle is yourself.

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