The key to failure

Bikers were among hundreds of veterans and civilians attending a pro-USA rally in Sacramento, California, March 2003.

Bikers were among hundreds of veterans and civilians
attending a pro-USA rally in Sacramento, California, March 2003.

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.”
Bill Cosby

“Everything I did in my life that was worthwhile, I caught hell for.”Earl Warren

There’s a very real difference between showing courtesy and respect to people with opposing views, versus compromising or hiding one’s own beliefs for fear of disapproval.  Admittedly it’s easy to confuse the two behaviors, especially for those in fields such as entertainment or politics, where popularity is crucial to success.  But even those of us who are relatively anonymous can fall into the trap of trying to please everyone.

Still, there are many people to whom we can look for examples of moral courage.  Some of them are public figures, either contemporary or historic.  Others are private citizens, the people we see every day.  What makes them worthy of admiration is their willingness to stand by their convictions despite the certainty that criticism will result.

These people do not engage in shouting matches or seek to prove themselves superior.  Rather, in quiet dignity, with confidence and without apology, they live according to high standards that don’t always match the cultural norm.

If you ever feel odd, feared or rejected because of views or behaviors that you believe to be morally right, no matter how unpopular, remember that it is impossible to please everyone.  Criticism is inevitable, and popularity is not a reliable predictor of integrity.

While we all do well to examine and re-examine our standards, basing them on a higher authority than our own selfish natures, we also must bear in mind that public opinion is not always a trustworthy arbiter of right and wrong.  If you are facing criticism, consider carefully before acquiescing to it.  Sometimes, it might mean you’re already doing the right thing.

One year ago today:

One who knows the way


  1. bobmielke

    I’m one of those old bikers who show up at Veteran’s Hospital on Veteran’s Day, or dedication rides for Autism. I’m also a member of CMA, Christian Motorcyclist Association and attend all motorcycle rallies regardless of affiliation. They include Honda Wingdings or Hoot rallies, Hells Angels, Devil’s Disciples or Outlaws. I ride to sponsor South American Christian pastors who must cover multiple villages in remote jungle areas. If a scooter can’t go there we buy them donkeys.

    • I love that – “If a scooter can’t go there we buy them donkeys.” Perfect! Not as fast, but cuter. 😀 The biking community is one that I’ve had very little exposure to, but as I’ve come to know many wonderful people who are bikers, I have quit being surprised when I find out people I know are motorcycle enthusiasts. I’ve learned to look past the stereotypes and appreciate the unique opportunities that are part of that hobby (for lack of a better word – would “lifestyle” be more appropriate?) During the many weeks Jeff spent at Walter Reed/Bethesda hospital in 2013, I was impressed by the compassion and respect that visiting bikers showed to residents of the “wounded warrior” floor. I’ve noticed that bikers are well represented in many worthy causes, and that speaks well for them. Mary Ann, a fabulously fun Christian lady who frequently comments here, and her hubby were some of the first bikers I knew, as his business (at least when we knew them) was “street machines.” (Mary Ann, do you remember having to explain to me that a street machine was not a steamroller or dump truck?) 😀

      • bobmielke

        With over 500,000 miles on “street machines” I knew hundreds of bikers from all over the country. We were what was known as “Rally Rats”, driving and camping the rally circuit every year. It’s a lot of fun and you meet the best people from all walks of life.

        While working at McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis I attended their company’s motorcycle club. In the daytime most were engineers and mechanics. On weekends they put on their motorcycle leather and “Doo Rags” and went biking, looking the part of Outlaws & Hells Angels. If you haven’t seen it you should rent the movie “Wild Hogs” with John Travolta. I haven’t laughed that hard in years. They were weeked bad ass bikers.

        • I have never even heard of that movie, which tells you how out of the loop I am on that. I do remember watching the movie “Mask” long ago, which is supposedly based on a true story, and really liking it. Though Matt was very, very young when I watched it (years after it was made) I could already connect with the mother’s persona.

      • MaryAnn

        Yes, my Dear; I remember explaining that “street machines” are muscle cars that we enjoy driving & working on them to go even FASTER! There is a broad usage of the term to include anything with POWER! We rode thousands of miles on several different bikes (i.e. motorcycles); seeing God’s Beauty in a whole new way.
        We have been to rallies in Sacramento. On one occasion, my brother was with us.
        They asked all the people who had served & are serving in the armed forces to come to the Capitol steps. It caused a wonderfully, joyful uproar from the audience. Both my brother & my husband said it was an emotional experience & it brought tears to their eyes when they were up there. I think that one was a Tea Party Rally.
        Thanks for this accolade!

        • Mary Ann, I feel less ignorant about motorcycles thanks to you (though I still have a LONG ways to go before I could claim to know anything at all about them) but at least I know now that a street machine is not a garbage truck! I get a kick out of picturing you and your sweet hubby heading out on the highway to take in the gorgeous landscapes of the west. I’m so happy you have been able to share this hobby, so perfect for California.

  2. What a profound statement. It’s funny because I was just sitting here thinking. Maybe I am to fussy. I was told jokingly that I have OCD, (I don’t think they were joking :o).) I have even been told that I am intimidating. I am always fighting for the underdog. I try to do the best I can, to help in any way I can. I never expect any gratitude or thanks, if I can help I will, If I can not I will try to get help, or give advice. I try to carry that higher authority in my heart. Reading your post at this moment just confirms my feelings to continue on. I was raised to treat people the way I want to be treated, I don’t think everyone gets that, but there is always hope. :o) You have made me smile, thanks.

    • Patricia, my heart is always with the underdog — a trait I think I picked up from my parents — and sometimes this does involve behaviors that seem intimidating. I’ve been told the same thing about myself and it’s funny how those of us who hear that we are intimidating are so often surprised and bewildered by such an assessment. I guess it surprises me because even when I am most vocally advocating for Matt or someone else whom I perceive to be in need of some form of support, I am almost always scared inside, but my indignation or anger or whatever it is that drives me to speak up always trumps my fear.

      As for the OCD-like traits, it seems to me that everyone has one or two (sometimes more) areas where they are like that (we used to call it “being a stickler” about something or other). In these times where so many common tendencies are labeled with a diagnosis– usually to allow medical insurance to cover something– it’s hard to know where behavior crosses the line from normal to pathological. I am thankful that we are all fussy about certain things. I want my surgeons to be extremely fussy about hygiene and risks, for example, and I want my airline pilots to be fussy about the mechanical soundness of the aircraft they fly, to name just two examples. As long as we are fussy in a functional way (not in useless rituals such as counting, etc.) it can work to our collective advantage if we don’t take it to psychotic extremes. In other words, saying “whatever, anything goes” can be just as damaging as being too fussy! So I think we should keep up our high standards and take criticism with an open mind and a grain (or sometimes a pound) of salt.

  3. raynard

    Julia, I learned in my 52 years of living and being a Christian, 1 everyone isnt going to be your friend, like you or even agree with you.( Makes you think about “how tough Jesus had it). With people “now taking selfies” making it about them ( disclaimer we both take pictures of ourselves and post it for friends and family on FB( and use our FB as a ministry to communicate and reach out to others.) Since I started reading books on my tablet, I’m reading books about people who ” take the focus off themselves and uplift others”. Laymans terms, i dont idolize sports figures and movie starts for only that talent God gave them” for a moment”..Hope this mini heatwave finds, you Jeff and Matt” in some shade drinking lemonade”.. Be blessed

    • Raynard, Jesus is certainly the ultimate example of how fickle popularity can be. In less than a week he went from being hailed and lauded with palm branches, to being crucified at the demands of a howling mob. Just goes to show you that even the most perfect person is going to take some hateful flack. I agree with you that celebrities are not where we should look for inspiration. I recently came across a quote from Bob Dylan who said “It’s not a good idea and it’s bad luck to look for life’s guidance to popular entertainers.” (Spoken by one whom many of his fans saw as a font of wisdom.) Today is going to be a great day for lemonade in the shade! Keep cool!

  4. Well said! I pray I am able to emulate this type of behavior.

    • Thank you Barb! I think a lot of us pray for that particular form of courage.

  5. Moving forward in an effort to no longer wished to give control and power to my critics. This posts helps. Thank you.

    • I’m so glad you found it helpful! Isn’t it amazing how some people can just bring us down no matter how hard we try? You hit the nail on the head when you say we can give them power — or not. I choose not! 😀

  6. Sheila

    Julia, I often say, “Just consider the source!” and hope that helps. It’s a different world somehow, or is it? Loved the comments from Bob. He’s had quite the biker experience! I never felt like a “biker chick” but I can say Bill and I rode, and it was ok! I really pray and hope all is well! Southern sister, Sheila

    • Awww, Sheila, here I was thinking of you as one of my favorite biker chicks! Hee-hee. We are doing OK. I am trying not to stop and think too much about Jeff’s less than fabulous scan results. He started back today on the original chemo protocol that worked so much better (in late 2012 and early 2013) than the one he’s been on recently. However, he said the doc told him today that it’s fairly typical for the early results of chemo to be much more dramatic than the later ones; I guess in some ways it gets harder to beat as treatment progresses. We’ll just hope that first protocol works twice for Jeff. They will only try it for about 8 weeks before re-scan and then try to come up with something different if things don’t improve. I appreciate your keeping the prayers going! BTW it was 97 here today so I am definitely feeling like your SOUTHERN sister!

  7. I wish you had been one of my friends during my youth, Julia.

    I was often ostracized for doing the right thing, for being honest, or for defending the underdog, but I did it anyway. I can be lonely. As an adult in my fifties, I’ve gathered friends that share my outlook, and understand my moral compass. It wasn’t always so.

    Thanks for this great post.

    • I wish I had too, Alys! But I might not have been much help. I would likely have been one of the people you were sticking up for. During my junior high years I was awkward and naive and nerdy, the perfect target for meanies. I was a late bloomer in the true senses of the word. In most ways, though, I consider that to have been an advantage, no matter how painful it was at the time. Adulthood is so freeing for most of us, I think. I’m glad we are friends now!

      • I’m glad we’re friends now too.

        Adulthood is freeing! You’re free to choose your friends based on a whole new criteria, not just age and proximity.

        I was also a late bloomer, but like you, feel the lessons learned were probably worth it. I started to understand the meanies when I was in high school. I wasn’t immune, but I started to get it.

        • I’m slow at “getting” things so that may have been part of my problem. But for late bloomers, life seems to get better and better as it goes along, at least in some ways. All in all I’d rather have my dessert last and my best years not left behind me in high school! 😀

  8. So funny, Alys and I were just talking on a Skype about a Yoga class I took when I lived in the country. There was a pose that had you upside-down, with your arms out to the side and your legs straight up in the air. The instructor called it the crucifix. It was really uncomfortable (as was most of yoga to me) and without intent of being offensive, I said, “kind of gives you an idea of how Jesus must have felt”. The instructor told me (and everyone there) that what I said was very offensive. As a non-religious person I was simply making a observation of the physicality of the pose and not a religious slur in any way. I immediately apologized to the group and felt terrible. The lady next to me was kind enough to say, “thank you, but you didn’t offend me”. This was the tip of the iceberg in this class and after hearing the instructor admonishing minorities for their choice of attire at school, I decided I didn’t fit in there and had no intention of trying. You really can’t please all the people all the time, it’s just a waste of a good day.

    • WOW, I have never had a Yoga teacher but that one blows my whole image of them. I thought they were supposed to be serenity gurus. I hate that happened to you and I don’t get it. If that person was so easily offended, why was she referring to a Yoga pose as “the crucifix” to begin with? She was downright suggesting innocent comments such as yours. Personally I find her conduct to be the offensive behavior in that scenario. I am sorry you had to drop the class but I think it was a wise decision on your part. Sounds as if she needed to be a Yoga student instead of a teacher.

      • I think you and I have the same impression about yoga, considering they wish you “namaste” and all that. I think she was probably an exception to the rule. Well no harm done since I didn’t really take to it much. I tend to like more cardio things or a good swim. I might try pilates, that’s the newest thing. Alys attends a class and seems to really love it and benefit both physically and mentally from it.

        • I wish I could find something that really appeals to me besides walking. I loved Zumba when I tried it on a cruise, until I pulled something or other and was too sore to move for awhile! I decided I must be too old for that. Maybe pilates will be the answer for me too, although I prefer to exercise alone with music of my own choice and nobody to see how silly I look!

  9. Michael

    Cosby’s statement fits well with something on Richard’s blog that, “we live in a world that is trying very hard to make us just like everyone else.”

    • Yes, there’s such a strong pull to conform, and I’ve never really understood why. It’s as if everyone finds some sort of validation by being surrounded by people who are alike. I guess that works well for those who are naturally “normal” but for those of us who ar hopelessly odd, it’s a recipe for frustration to try to be like everyone else, even if we try hard not to be different.

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