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Nothing succeeds like failure — and power naps

Burt's Eye View

My life didn’t end when I failed. It just felt like it.

There are only so many times a person gets knocked down before he says, “While I’m lying here, I might as well take a nap. I’ll get back up and try again later. Maybe. We’ll see.”

I grew up in an era when failure “built character.” That’s why my generation is full of characters. Our parents refused to rescue us from failure.

When I got cut from the seventh-grade basketball team, my dad didn’t blister the coach. He shrugged and said, “Guess you’ll have to try harder next season. You’ve got a whole year to practice.”

For the next 12 months, I pelted the hoop hanging on the side of the barn wall with shot after shot (proving that yes, I CAN hit the broad side of a barn). I jumped rope. I ran. I read how-to books. I slept with a basketball as my pillow.

And I DID make the eighth-grade team — by default. So few of us boys tried out for basketball that year, we all made the team.

I saw lots of action that year — in practice. Come game time, I played starting bench warmer. Once, when Coach accidentally called my number, I stunned the entire team by canning one of two free throws. That was the only point I scored in two seasons of play, netting me a career scoring average of 0.03 points per game.

In short, I failed at basketball.

But I learned about handling disappointment. I got the hang of shaking off jeers — from both opponents and teammates. I saw firsthand the value of teamwork. I dug in to master work ethic. I understood that I must be ready to go into the game at any time even when I knew in my heart that I wasn’t going to get the call.

Dad let me unwrap all those life lessons by myself.

Today, I’ve seen some parents work so hard shielding Johnny and Susie from failure, awarding medals and kudos for merely showing up once in a while and putting in a half-hearted job.

My theory is that the plague of entitled brat adults who believe in being rewarded without accomplishing anything were once kids who weren’t permitted the privilege of losing. Or of grasping and honing on their own true skills in life.

I figured out that while I would never play in the NBA All Star Game, I could dribble words much better than basketballs. And all those practices I endured during my “failure” demonstrated to me that in my writing career, if I miss the literary shot the first time, run the drills, find my sweet spot and keep shooting.

Thomas Edison didn’t quit when working to invent the electric light bulb. He finally mastered the right combination of materials and processes. “I have not failed,” he said. “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

Businessman and author Robert T. Kiyosaki said, “Winners are not afraid of losing. But losers are. Failure is part of the process of success. People who avoid failure also avoid success.”

Winston Churchill put it: “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

And Burton Cole (that would be me) says, “When life knocks you down, definitely take a ‘power nap’ before getting back up.”

Which reminds, I also learned that a basketball makes a lousy pillow.

• Go one-on-one with Cole at burtseyeview@tribtoday.com, the Burton W. Cole page on Facebook or at www.burtonwcole.com.

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