Can ‘winning’ get in the way of learning?

I’ve had countless failures in the past couple of years. Some of them were hard-fought battles, some I’d almost won, and then some that were basically half-assed attempts. Obviously, I’m not proud of those failures nor would I ever try to boast about them. (Who in their right minds would?)

But there’s something about winning that I believe often gets in the way of real learning. And I could be wrong about this, but my hypothesis is that nothing ever comes close to giving you life-altering feedback and gaining knowledge as failing does. Because when you win at something, that’s it! You’ve won! The journey ends. I know everyone loves to say, “the journey has just begun,” but the rapid rate of learning and mastery basically slows down from thereon, despite your best efforts. Why? Because you’re no longer curious! You know what the journey is like. You know where the bends and turns are. Nothing’s ever exciting about a road often traveled.

On the other hand, failing at something keeps you on your toes. It pushes you to test yourself, experiment, take risks, get feedback, rinse and repeat. The vast amount of data that you collect from that experience is just astounding.

Last year and this year, I attended StrongFirst’s SFL and SFG certifications. I failed at both the certs! Much to my shame. At least initially. But I’ve been in touch with my batchmates. They not only got certified but also achieved major successes and breakthroughs in their businesses. I am so happy for them!

To stoke my curiosity, I approached several peers regarding a specific programming and technique question a few months back. It was something we all learned at the cert workshops and boy, was I astounded! Most of them got the drills right but principally they deviated from the core system. And that beats the whole purpose of getting certified much less investing money in such an expensive certification workshop.

I couldn’t help but investigate further until I found what I was looking for, which made me realize this — I strive to drill down on both the drills and principles on a daily basis. And I think a large chunk of that is due to my failure during the certifications. It has kept me grounded in the system, encouraging me to dig even deeper and experiment more.

The results have been fantastic! I’ve trained and helped a handful of individuals get stronger in the gym using techniques and strategies that I learned from my failed attempts at getting certified.

Outside of sports, I’ve had similar experiences at the workplace in the different projects and initiatives that I have undertaken. The learning and experiences I’ve had are worth its weight in gold! My peer and industry group admires the kind of experience and learnings I’ve had. And how did I achieve that? Wasn’t a hack but by constantly going beyond my comfort zone, taking risks and embracing failure as if it’s my beloved wife! (Shucks, that didn’t sound well. Did it?)

Would I have learned so much (not that I’m getting a Nobel prize or something) if I’d won at the outset? I don’t think so. Now, I’m not encouraging you to try not to pass/win but I sure would want people to explore opportunities and push the limits when given a chance. And we’ve got to take that with a pinch of salt — accepting that failure is a possibility.

For someone whose livelihood depends on learning, I think failing at multiple things has been one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had. Sure it’s been an expensive experience and I understand not everyone would want to indulge. And that is okay — it’s a matter of perspective after all.

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