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Risking to fail

Sunday 3/20/22

Tom Brady and the value of being willing to fail.


Tom Brady’s return, in following a forty-day retirement that retroactively feels like a sham at worst and a needless exercise at best, has many people in a lather over the dangled carrot that is the storybook ending.


People love what they think of as a storybook ending, and Brady nearly had one. Wins the Super Bowl his first year in Tampa Bay, and then was statistically dominant in year two, with a near impossible playoff comeback—a Brady specialty—almost turned into reality. What else do you want?


The thinking is that the needless return—or just hanging on too long—spoils the cosmetic aspect of what a player did. There’s Michael Jordan on the Wizards, Willie Mays with the Mets. To this I utter a cry of: bunk. And stop it. And grow up. Because life is largely about muck. It’s not a conceit of niceties. Tucked in edges. Perfectly stitched seams.


The best things, the most admirable, are risk-centric. Going for it. Taking the chance. Allowing a certain amount of potential scuzz to come into one’s existence. Failure isn’t awesome, in and of itself. But risking failure? Not being concerned about meaningless, manicured folderol like legacy and perfection? That’s the heady stuff, the human brew that we should all care about.


Yes, I think Brady is a diva, and I suspect he’s going to be rubbish at life later on, after football. Given a choice, if we are to have an abiding passion in life—and most don’t—it’s best if you can pursue it—and get better at it—for the duration of your life. It’s hard to imagine what Picasso would have done with himself if he couldn’t continue to paint, or if Beethoven had to retire from composing, with all of that music left in his brain.


Brady seems like a man who needs attention, and no, I don’t want to do the “will he or won’t he” thing again and again, nor have to watch a farewell tour in action, or encounter lachrymose social media posts thanking one and all—and maybe even the fans of New England—when Brady retires again.


Orson Welles, an artist who made a perfect film in Citizen Kane, would tell people that what interested him most was trying. Experimenting. Risking failure. That held his attention, and stirred his passions, more so than the actual creation did, or certainly anything to do with his legacy. If the work of art produced was one for the ages, better yet, but the crucial thrust of his humanness, so far as Welles was concerned, came down to the challenge.


It’s a good way to live life, even if you can’t read a defense or throw a beautiful sideline-out. Perfection as a concept—a target—is one of the greatest limiters. It can also be intimidating. What will people think about me? Or, maybe worse: What will they stop thinking and being to think instead?


I think Brady 1. Can’t help himself but also 2. That he’s brave. Failure really is so minor. It’s not like if you fail, that’s it, you fall off the side of the earth. You can start again. You can start elsewhere. To paraphrase Samuel Beckett, you can start better.

For Brady, I wonder if that’s what he can do in the rest of his life, because he’s going to have to, come some point. In the meanwhile, I want to see what he does, whether he succeeds or fails. they’re a lot more closely related than we think.