Man Drawing Chalk Tic Tac Toe

The Right Amount of Failure

Here’s an opening question. What is the right amount of failure?
If you say, zero—well that reminds me of playing tic-tac-toe, a game that any 8-year-old can play and never lose. A game so boring that no one likes to play it. And of course, a game can’t be impossible to win or we would never start, or quickly quit.

No, the right amount of failure is Life. Ever variable, ever changing, ever enticing, ever frustrating—Life. And if you love to play the game of Life like I do, maybe these three stories can help you strategize tomorrow’s game and get in a few more wins.

A friend of mine is a high school teacher. He specializes in the kids that the other teachers prefer not to deal with. Angry ones. Many of these kids are angry and violent for good reasons and society gets that; if you’re an angry kid who behaves violently, you get counseling.

But if you’re an angry 18-year-old legal adult that behaves violently, you get jail time. My friend (I’ll call him Jason) has to try to figure out how to reach into these angry heads before the clock runs out and they become adults.

The story starts with a kid that got in a fight first period and was sitting in Jason’s office, too angry to even speak coherently.

“That —-! If that —-so much as looks at me again, I’ll —- kill him!”

My friend let him rant a little more, let the blood pressure drop, let a little more steam escape. When the moment was right and there was a big enough gap in the swearing he asked, “So, let me get this straight—you’re his puppet?”

The kid levitated six inches off the chair “I ain’t that —- loser’s—–puppet!”

This was met by raised eyebrows and a puzzled look. “I hear you, but it seems like that kid you hate has figured out a way to get you in trouble, to get you to lose your temper, to get you to behave in a way that gets you in my office, a place you don’t want to be. Doesn’t that make you a puppet?”

The kid’s mouth opened and closed.


Then fuming silence.

After all, who likes finding out they’re a puppet?

A professional angler is showing me a favorite lure. “This baby gets strikes like crazy.”

I saw it was bright orange. “Why? It doesn’t look like any kind of food a fish would like.”

“Oh, fish don’t just strike because they’re hungry. They strike because they can’t help it. They see this color swimming by and they react by reflex alone.”
I was thinking of how stupid fish were as I left his office. He had some red and white mints in a candy dish on the counter and I popped one in my mouth. I don’t really even like mints.

Stupid fish.

I saw an old classmate. She looked great and I said so.

“Thanks, I’m on a diet,” she said. “I’ve lost 80 pounds.”

“Wow! That’s amazing!” I countered.
“Yeah, it’s my fourth time on this one.” She added, “Losing the weight is pretty easy once you start. And gaining it is even easier. It’s that living in the middle part that’s the hard part.”

“Why?” I ask.

She shrugged. “I don’t know.”


They always say that when you get bucked off the horse to get right back on. I have decided that is bad advice. I think that when you get bucked off, stay down. Think about why you got bucked off in the first place. Ask someone else why they think you got bucked off. Close your eyes and think of a different way to ride the horse.

Then and only then, get up, clap the dust off your pants, set the hat back on, good and tight, and ride ‘em, Cowboy!

You can do this!