Before listening to Sarah Lewis’ Ted Talk, the idea that almost reaching your goals could be more beneficial than actually reaching them was alien to me. Doesn’t everyone want to succeed and win every time?
Sarah Lewis is an art historian (associate professor at Harvard University) and critic. She is the author of The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, which expands on the subject of her talk. What she argues is that while success is a fantastic feeling, it occurs only for a brief moment in time. What we actually feel proud of is the mastery of something.
Mastery is dedication, commitment, knowledge and skill, or the ‘ever-onward almost.’ It is not something that we arrive at, but a constant reaching, a bridging of the gap between where you are right now, and where you’ll be after putting in X. If we were to succeed every time, it is likely that we would end up complacent, and therefore less likely to put in the work following our win. It is the silver-medalists who go on to achieve something spectacular. This is why Sarah describes a ‘near win’ as a gift; it is the very thing we need to drive us forward.
In her study of this subject Sarah went to go and watch a set of varsity archers, to learn and understand what’s known as The Archer’s Paradox. The paradox explains that to hit a target, you must aim slightly off-centre. She noticed that with every target an archer missed, their sense of determination and perseverance increased. While success would be hitting the target, mastery is the ability to repeat this again and again. It was obvious to her that the archers all knew this, as in spite of their high frequency of targets hit, they stood outside in the cold for three hours practising.
In short, next time we fail or miss the mark, instead of taking it to heart we should grant ourselves the opportunity to move forward, and acknowledge that the adversity will increase our resilience and tenacity far more than a success ever would.
Sarah Lewis is a wonderful public speaker, and provides in her talk many more examples of when a near miss has resulted in something extraordinary. Click play below to watch the talk!