A couple of years ago, über-trader Paul Tudor Jones gave a talk to high school-aged young men at the Buckley School about the importance of failure. The entire thing is brilliant and worth a read but of particular interest to me was this bit about how how there is a very specific type of failure – the kind that is unavoidable. His story about being literally left at the altar as a 26-year-old “knucklehead” carries with it an extremely important message: Sometimes failure is merely chasing you off of the wrong road and onto the right one.
Now, there are two types of failure you will experience in life. The first type is what I just described and comes from things you can control. That is the worst kind. But there is another form of failure that will be equally devastating to you, and that is the kind beyond your control.
This happened to me in 1982. I had met a very lovely young Harvard student from Connecticut, dated her for two years then asked her to marry me right after she graduated from college. We set a date; we sent out the invitations; and all was fantastic until one month before the wedding when her father called me. He said, “Paul, my daughter sat me down this afternoon, and she doesn’t know how to tell you this, but she is really unhappy and thinks it’s time for you two to take a break.” At first I thought he was joking because he was a very funny guy. Then he said, “No, she is serious about this.” I thought to myself, “Oh, my God, I am being dumped at the altar.”
I’m from Tennessee. Getting dumped at the altar was the supreme social embarrassment of that time. It was a big deal. When all my family and friends found out, they were ready to re-start the Civil War on the spot. I had to remind them that the last Civil War didn’t go so well for our side, and I didn’t like our chances in a rematch.
The reality was that I was a 26-year old knucklehead, and since all my friends were getting married, I kind of felt it was time for me to do the same thing. And that was the worst reason in the world to get married. I actually think she understood that and to a certain extent spared me what would have been a very tough marriage. Instead, I’ve had an incredible marriage for twenty years to a wonderful wife, and we have four kids that I love more than anything on Earth. Some things happen to you that at the time will make you feel like the world is coming to an end, but in actuality, there is a very good reason for it. You just can’t see it and don’t know it. When one door closes, another will open, but standing in that hallway can be hell. You just have to persevere.
Quite often that dragon of failure is really chasing you off the wrong road and on to the right one.
Pretty important concept, guys.
June 10, 2009