Failure’s ROI

I follow all kinds of people (and some bots) on Twitter. I read all sorts of blogs and books. I rarely watch TV anymore but I know what happens there. I’m an information omnivore, so I keep a pulse on our culture. I hear the drone of one theme in our modern world: Success. I witness  it when parents talk to their children, when self-help authors pimp their latest books, when social media gurus give their readers variations of the same pep posts. Success! Success! Success!

Here’s a fundamental problem: we all, one way or another, fail to live beyond a few years. That’s a big failure when you think about it, at least from a certain angle.

And living forever in this world isn’t the only thing we fail at. We fail at a great many things. We fail at the things we’ve never experienced. We fail to see truths set in front of our noses. We fail everyday and fail to see those failures.

Our culture’s obsession with success perhaps speaks more about our fears than it does about our ambitions. Why is there such a fear of failure in our culture? Why is it shamed so much in our schools (where it’s sometimes used as a weapon), in our homes, in our workplaces, in our communities, in our media? I think we are paying heavy prices for our failure to experience failure.

You see, if you spend your life without any intimacy with moments of failure, with death, with loss, then you set your life upon a course of disappointment. Our culture’s obsession with success is really an obsession with only one part of our passion-complex: our desire for pleasure, be it the pleasure of pride or accomplishment. But we have other emotions, other spaces we all are born to inhabit: like grief.

It’s important to grieve. We don’t like to talk about death because we don’t know how to grieve. We don’t like to talk about failure because, ultimately, we don’t know how to grieve. A culture, or a person, who spends every moment focused on success never gets to practice grief. As you get older, that grief (which is a garden) dries up unless tended to once in a while.

A healthy culture welcomes grief, clutivates it, and in the process grows successfully. It doesn’t talk about success: it just does what it loves to do, which is to ensure that its members live fully. The ancients, for all of their insane or brutal rituals and habits, cherished things we seem hell-bent to banish. They appreciated the beauty that surrounded them, respected the mystery of existence and were keenly aware of the dangers inherent in life’s turbulent flows. For them grief itself was a gift.

Fast-forward to our evolving world of social media.

We’re all still trying to sort out what it means to live in a streaming, “real-time” state of affairs. One thing we know is that things are getting faster and faster and the rate of acceleration is accelerating. Which is to say, things are more likely to fail than succeed. This is an important thing to know in the 21st Century.

The more you’re willing to face your fear of failure, the better your chances of succeeding at the important things in life. Take a close inventory of your failures and thank them.

Don’t be so brainwashed by our culture’s insistence on success. Our general culture is itself a failure. Which is why it’s so obsessed with success. Be wary of calls to “climb to the top” or “fly high”.

Angels fall fast from the sky. But roots grow deep in darkness.

Tend to your garden of grief. One day, or one long night, you will find yourself alone in that garden and nothing that you accomplished will accompany you in your dark time.

The question you should be asking yourself right now: Will the flowers deep down in my bed of grief be dead when I need them or will they be fresh enough for me to have things to care for?

It’s OK to fail. The universe gives you that permission. Don’t let the Success Fools fool you into being only a half-human.

Being a fully-grown human being takes a lot of failure and grief. Invest in being human. The returns are priceless. Literally.

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Hospital CEO Compensation…A Comment On

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John G. Self wrote a post today concerning executive compensation among hospitals. For technical reasons I was unable to leave a comment, so I’m leaving it here. It’s an important topic, and one that certainly stirs passion, especially in the wake of the collapse of financial institutions last fall. Read John’s post and then read my reply:

John,

Well-articulated post and I agree with the general sentiment concerning the recruitment and retention of executives with talent and vision and incorruptible commitment to stakeholders.

Yes, there is a back-lash to executive compensation: some of it merited, some of it uninformed, some of it part of the scapegoating mechanism invoked in any crisis.

Yes, CEOs have it tough. But you know who also have it tough? Nurses. Doctors. We aught to include the compensation for nurses in your argument as well: you can have the best CEO in the world running a hospital, but it’s for naught if the nursing staff isn’t compensated well. If I were the CEO of a hospital and my nurses weren’t compensated well, I wouldn’t be asking for a raise for myself until they and other staff received the compensation, resources, support and respect they deserve.

I also think that too often “qualified CEO” means high-paid CEO. Over the last 20-30 years, many companies entered a mad race for the “best and brightest” and so they settled on compensation as the way to attract that talent. But there’s always diminishing marginal returns: a CEO who was paid $250,000 per year yesterday isn’t going to perform twice as good if his salary goes up to $500,000. Boards of Directors need to get away from that way of thinking and get more creative. After all, they’re beholden to shareholders and its their right and duty to make their companies places executives would love to lead.

Yes, compensation is important. But so is knowing that the work that’s done is meaningful and something worth pursuing in its own right. If it isn’t, then what you are left with aren’t talented executive leaders. Instead, you’re left with overpaid, mediocre and unpassionate MBA grads.

It’s unfortunate that we permitted executives in the financial sector to abandon the backbone of capitalism (investing in the long-term) for the belly of insatiety (short-term gain). And now CEOs in all other sectors will feel heat from the public.

True executives lead. They invest in trust, they sell hope and they share the wealth accrued by the communities they lead. The more CEOs do that, the more likely the public will once again entrust them to execute the noblest tasks of capitalism. When that happens, the compensation will be a pleasant side-effect.

Until then, CEOs will have to do what the rest of us must now do: work harder, be more creative than ever before, exercise financial discipline and aim to be remarkable for remarkability’s sake.

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A Thank You To My Subscribers

Thank you for subscribing to, and participating in, my little show about nothing. I know some of you read the posts here for several different reasons: many for my healthcare posts, others for my weird but somewhat philosophically investigative takes on disparate topics like Twitter and LSD.

I started this blog a little over a year ago for several reasons, including an interest in how the web and the technologies and communities it weaves influence us all. I wanted a basecamp for my corner of the web and chose to blog primarily under my own vanity domain because I have such an insanely diverse array of curiosities and experiences.

One area of interest that seemed to occupy my attention was how the health care industry could improve its presence on the web. After playing around over the years with different kinds of social media, I came to appreciate Twitter most of all. I can’t exactly put my finger on it, but I felt that Twitter was a disturbance in the force, a disrupting community-building technology that would eventually come to change how we communicate, how we collaborate, how we interact with other technologies. So very early on, I set my thoughts on how Twitter (or its analogues) could fit into healthcare.

I didn’t know many healthcare peeps who were deeply involved with the newly evolved online tools and communities. And from scanning the healthcare blogging scene, I was kind of disappointed with how far behind the healthcare blogosphere seemed to be. After a year, I know a lot more healthcare peeps who seem sincerely passionate about bringing social media to healthcare (or perhaps I should say healthcare to social media). I plan on a future post citing some of you who have entered my network. I feel fortunate to have had honorable encouragement. For now, know that I hold gratitude to new friends.

I consider myself a mediocre polymath: a review of my career will reveal that I’m largely a chameleon. I simply can’t settle on one trajectory in the way that our culture inculcates us to set into. My curiosities are too wide and deep to niche myself to death. Still, we all need a focus. I expect that my future blogging and tweeting will reflect the changes which I’ll undertake in the months and years ahead. This is a relentless century: we all need to keep building and working and networking and changing.

Earlier this year, I formed a corporation to house my business interests. In between working full-time as a contractor, a husband and father, it’s challenging to get a business rolling. These are interesting times and I believe now is the best time to start a business. As interesting developments transpire, I will keep you posted.

In the meantime, I invite you to comment on my blogging. I ask you:

  • If my posts (or if you’re following me on Twitter, my tweets) interest you , why?
  • Am I too “all over the place” or do you actually prefer diversity of content?
  • Are there any topics you’d like me to write about?
  • What are your least and most favorite posts?
  • What strengths, perspectives or themes do you find most worthy of building upon?

I welcome your feedback.

Again, thank you for being here. It’s been a pleasure to read your comments and since  Twitter is my favorite place to hang out, I’m glad you’re there with me too. Cheers!

Sincerely,

Phil

(Oh, and btw in recent days, I’ve had a renewed interest in FriendFeed. I’ll give it a couple of weeks and see if I”m still interested. I’ll let you know if I glean any insights into its use or uselessness.)

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