Failure, humility and celebrating human progress

I recently read an inspiring article written by legendary NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar about the definition of success and failure.

Kareem retired 30 years ago but still holds a long list of world records and titles, including that of NBA All-Time Leading Scorer. Despite this, Kareem admits he’s only too happy to see these records and titles broken and revoked.

In his own words, Kareem says: “I want them to break my records because doing so is one more benchmark of human progress.”

“Each time an athlete demonstrates that a person is capable of more than we thought, they have inspired all of humanity to realise that they are capable of reaching further than they thought possible.”

Kareem’s humble outlook has really moved me and puts a lot in perspective. A mention in the record books pales in comparison to the progress of human ability. I don’t think anyone could argue with that.

Kareem’s approach to success is also reflected in his thoughts about failure. His attitude is that success makes us happy but failing makes us strong.

Titles aren’t important, but as the NBA's third leading all-time rebounder, Kareem knows a thing or two about bouncing back from failure.

He echoes the words and sentiment from another legendary athlete, Michael Jordan, who said:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

As someone who has made their fair share of mistakes too, I couldn’t agree with both Michael and Kareem more.

I’ve previously discussed the importance of embracing the mistakes you will inevitably make in life. At the end of the day, as long as you learn from your mistakes, you’re not really failing at all.

When I look back on past business endeavours, it’s the moments that didn’t go to plan that taught me the most (and make the better stories!) From crash landing a hot air balloon into remote waters to the short-lived dream of Virgin Cola, I used lessons learnt from each experience to guide later successes.

At the end of the day, Kareem’s words have reminded me that it really isn’t success, failure, titles or records that define us in life. What matters is our ability to persevere, to grow and to always celebrate human progress over individual achievement.

Thank you for this reminder Kareem.

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