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My caffeine-love-affair-du-jour, two hours before closing, discounts everything for their version of a happy hour. I didn’t plan ahead, and I found myself in need of breaking down a bill before paying bus fare on my way out the office. These two completely normal events combined into something strange for me, since I try to limit my sweet tooth to chocolate,¬† in that I just devoured an apple-cinnamon bear claw the size of my face. This is a sizeable measure, in that my forehead alone is considered prime advertising space by the car-wrapping¬† industry.
So, it is with an escalating sugar high that I introduce you to a topic I’ve wanted to write about for quite some time – failure. I actually have many thoughts on the subject of failure, since I think our society (individually and collectively) is under-equipped to deal with it, but I will space it out over the blog. The specific thing I want to focus on here is what I call “the other ADD” – sure, neither Attention Deficit Disorder nor it’s Hyperactive cousin should be overlooked as serious issues (and, if properly supported, gifts), but I want to talk about another framework. In what I consider to be extensive experience with failure and distraction (and yes, with success, too, but that’s not important), I’ve noticed that people, organizations, and general “things” fail for one of three specific reasons: Aversion, Diversion, or Delusion.
There it is, the other ADD. Yes, this framework focuses on the power of the individual, because that’s where I believe useful discussions of failure reside. If it is not within the power of the individual to succeed, then I don’t call it failure – it’s a stacked playing field, it’s unfair, it’s an impossibility, but it is not failure. This is, ostensibly, one of the finer points of terminology I use to exemplify our inability to handle the idea of failure: if someone “fails” out of school, the first question needs to be “Were they given an equal playing field” not “What did they do wrong”. Failure goes both ways – if the student fails the school, then the school itself has failed to perform. Most things in society, especially education, are not a doctrine – they’re a dialogue. If we as individuals are given the opportunity to take a part in that dialogue, this is where my ADD comes in to play.
Let’s start with “aversion” – what is it? To be “averse” to something, I must really not want to do it, be near it, partake of it, etc. I avoid it, not necessarily out of any sense of reason but typically because I just don’t like it. It may not even be a conscious aversion¬† – many people with intimidating letters after their name make big money from this fact alone. Many times our aversions aren’t even our own – society tells us to hate something, and for some reason we find that agreeable. Fat-shaming, racism, ageism, and bullying are some of the by-products of this, and the victims are too numerous and depressing to count; but this works no less effectively on the level of the individual than it does in society. How many dreams of your own, or how many of your opportunities, have been missed because the path to success had a few objects of your aversion?
One of the examples I have for this is correspondence – yes, I love the idea of writing and receiving actual, physical letters, but for some reason I can’t stand the idea of going to the post office to mail things, or even making the effort to go to a mailbox. I haven’t been able to figure this out, and I struggle with it weekly as I write. I’ve had addressed envelopes in my bag for three weeks now, and stamps in my desk, and for some reason I do not get around to it. Certainly, this is an unusual focus for aversion, but I think the mechanics and end results might sound familiar to most people. Even once I finally send a batch of letters, I don’t feel some modicum of success – rather, I’m just exasperated at myself for taking so long. In younger children, we see this a lot with chores and homework – actually, in pretty much anyone under the age of 25 this is a distinct possibility, with many college students not wanting to do work or go to class (to the point of failure), and we’ve all heard stories about the college roommate nightmare-beast who never cleaned anything.
In the professional world, it’s a bit trickier: what actually constitute smart management practices may look like aversion, and sometimes playing along with aversion is a smart management practice. There are thousands of different frameworks and terms and diagrams and courses and, well, information junk that deal with motivation practices and policies for employees or customers or volunteers or whatever. Different ones work in different environments, and some are popularly accepted as “true” – but in each instance, they deal with understanding and altering the object of aversion. Whichever candle you light in a person, the end goal is to keep the darkness away.
In the interest of actually getting this blog post out there, albeit weeks late, I’m going to be a tease and save “Diversion” and “Delusion” for another day.