I am in an industry that is about participation. Trying hard to convince people to do things themselves instead of living vicariously through others’ accomplishments in our day and age is almost heretical. If you’re under sixty, you’ve likely never known a time without television and televised sports. Today, of course, the variety of and exposure to spectator sports is dazzling. I won’t bother to list the many mixed martial arts contests available in a saturated market for you to become a fan of, I will only point out that watching these contests does not make you accomplished in any way. The same way playing video games improves no skills but video game play. In fact, it’s been argued that you never improve any skills when you watch things. You were as good at watching as a baby as you are as an adult (see Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death). If you’re infirm somehow I understand a need to be a passive watcher of sports, for everyone else, however, the idea that you are somehow associated with achievements that are not yours is astonishingly weird. Pride for things you did not accomplish yourself is downright magical thinking and really has no place in a rational world (I’ll save whether or not we live in a rational world for another day).
So why’s it so hard to get people doing rather than passively watching? Much of the problem lies in an expectation and fear of failure. In our world, and I write as an American of the twenty-first century, losing, failing, and being known as unsuccessful are detriments we have a tendency to identify with in a kind of ownership mindset. When we fail at something, we become that failure. Instead what we should become associated with is recovery from that failure. Sports participation should teach us that failing is a normal and natural part of the participation and that what matters is the participation, the sweat and coordination of achievement toward the many small goals required to produce a desired outcome. Damned few serious accomplishments were achieved in a single bound. Though with our obsession with Harry Potter birthright to perfection, and super heroes equipped with especial powers that were not effort based, our minds have been set to dispense with effort and avoid the distaste of defeat.
Jiu-jitsu has many defeats on the road to accomplishing your goals of becoming adept. It is telling that the first thing you will see most non-academy (and I mean practitioners who have limited access to legitimate black belts in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu) lack is a strong guard game (fighting off the back a key component of the fighting art). The reason is that developing a functional guard requires a lot of failure and recovery. Every time you attempt a sweep or a finish from your guard position you get close enough to be smash passed (stack passed). This is going to happen a lot as you develop your game. For many beginners the failure is too difficult to swallow. Too many naive practitioners see only the failure and forget about the experience of the recovery. My suggestion to you is to never think of failure as anything but the recovery. The most fascinating part of any successful person’s story is how they recovered from adversity. Every novel, every movie, every interesting plot requires adversity to produce accomplishment. Why then do we try to live our lives without any adversity? Why do we try to arrange our personal plots to be without failure and recovery? Be interesting. Be fascinating. Achieve your own accomplishments. Stop being a passive spectator.
The comedian Maria Bamford jokes profoundly that whatever it is you have to be ashamed of, you can likely Google it and find someone who has done what you did (the population of the world being as large as it is) and find them currently on a book tour about it!
So no more of this fear of failure. No more of this misplaced pride of other people’s accomplishments. Live for yourself. And become someone who does things. A superhero if you will, recovering and struggling and doing things that you can be proud of.