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The Effort/Error Paradox

May 27, 2015


Why do we do anything?

Well, we do the necessities: eat, sleep, stay warm enough not to die.

The Big 3 above leverage extensions into gluttony and McMansions, but humans go so far and away into places of wish fulfillment that the origins of the wishing get lost. But the negative consequences of opting to do more than the Big 3 create most of our “issues”.

A contractor I know lost his business because he became addicted to golf (according to my client who stalked his absences).

Athletes get wrecked (not just football/concussions but hip replacements for runners, Tommy John for pitchers and psychotherapy for golfers).

Politicians become husks of humans, grinding belief into performance, ethos into egomaniacal cynicism.

Wanting to express often creates a place of error’s abiding consequences.

The Teddy Roosevelt quote above was on my coach’s wall in 1970 as I went to see him: it was like everything else in a 1970’s coach’s office, just like the coach: rumbled and reeking of backstory.

Its central phrase leapt out to me: “There is no effort without error.”

I read as a 15 year old who was getting the living crap kicked out of me everyday, but knowing that was OK. It was OK because my eating, sleeping, sheltering was taken care of, and I was, essentially alone – and football was where I could be completely inept, but be part of something bigger than eating, sleeping and safety.

Of course grades mattered, but the C in German my first semester hurt far, far, more than getting pounded by Park Metzloff on a trap. Grades told you, explicitly, you failed in a particular way: but that tip of my intellectual iceberg was fragile: it was what I lived for thru 8 years of grammar school: grades “proved” I was not worthless.

But the effort of football, grades, or golf always, always, involves error. “There is no effort without error.” I read that at 15 and it changed my brain’s pattern of thinking. Error was not a window to the rest of my fully flawed reality: it was necessary.

Error is necessary if I actually wanted to do something more than the eat, sleep, stay warm baseline.

It is the trigger of every sleep’s night terror, it is the thing I try to eliminate – but happens continuously, unrelentingly, and its grinding truth of my incapacities triggers a twitch muscle response that is unreasoned and unreasonable – but cuts, still, at 59.

l gave 3 public efforts this month: a recounting of a project to a group, being a  fundraiser at a large event and then an MC at a press conference. My sad circumstance is that these things induce preparation and overfocus as the inevitable error paradigm is, of course, there, all the time. The first 2 were free-wheeling, focused, and without discernible error, but the 3rd had me ad-lib a name in hubris over how well it was going: and I completely transposed the naming: a fully preventable error, simply by following my own text. That I wrote. That was more than sufficient.

But I was in an arena. I wanted to do better than I was doing. And at that moment, I failed.

I went to the misnamed, she was fine, others seemed not to be, her forgiveness checked off one box, but the error remains. There. Forever – but probably just in me.

“There is no effort without error” and, for almost all of us, life requires effort beyond necessity. The gamer in his mom’s basement loses to someone in Singapore. The 9 year old goalie let’s a goal in. A marriage ends.

That quote re-emerged 40 years after on the poster you see above that was placed on my son’s freshman dorm wall – unseen, unremembered by me until that moment 5 years ago. He still remembers the sack he gave up in the Ursinus game 3 years ago.

I know all this, and I still wince.

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