WHAT DID YOU FAIL AT THIS WEEK? A REPRISE, by Art Smukler, author & Psychiatrist

I wish someone had asked me that when I was a child, and I had asked the same question to my children.

This is now third-hand, but who cares? Good information should be passed along. 

Fareed Zakaria, the brilliant educator and commentator, shared some details of an interview he had with Sara Blakely, the self-made billionaire developer of Spanx, a must-have underwear for women. 

Ms. Blakely attributed her success to her father. Once a week he would ask, “What did you fail at this week?”

“Daddy, why do you keep asking that? I didn’t fail at anything!” Sara said, a puzzled expression on her face.

“I want you to live up to your full potential. If you only try safe things and are afraid to fail, how can you grow and improve?”

So one day, Sara told her father about something that she tried and how miserably she failed. Her father beamed with pleasure, raised his hand and hi-fived his lovely daughter. “I’m so proud of you!” he said. “So very, very proud.”

This lesson applies to all of us, no matter how old, or how jaded we’ve become. Trying new things and risking failure to follow a dream is sure to entail periods of anguish.

Writers are especially vulnerable. Sitting alone staring at your Apple screen, as wisps of ideas make their way from the darkened recesses of your pre-conscious mind, is a unique task and leaves one vulnerable and disquieted. There are no cheerleaders or decibel-shattering student sections to urge you on when you find the right word or idea. You are a cheering section of one.

The chances of success may at times seem dim and foolish, but four times a month you get to ask yourself the question, “What have I failed at this week?”

If you try something new, something daring, by my standards, that is a raging success!


Recently, I had the pleasure of going to a JV soccer game in Connecticut. One of the starters on the JV team was Zac, a ninth grader. Zac was the starting center defenseman.

Not knowing much about soccer, I noticed that the mid-fielders (Bend it like Beckham) and the forwards seemed much more active. Zac, even though he’s a really fast runner and an excellent athlete, was only involved in about a dozen plays.

I asked him if he was interested in changing positions, because it seemed like the other players got more of a chance to be in the thick of the action.

He answered, “I really like my position.”

“How come,” I asked.

“It gives me a chance to see the whole field, how everything is evolving. I like that. Often, I can predict what’s going to happen.”

“You don’t seem to get the ball much,” I said.

“”I’m not supposed to. If everyone does his job, I shouldn’t get it. I’m the last resort.”

“Wow,” I said with a nod. “It seems like chess.”

“It is,” he said, and went back to reading his latest novel.

You might already see where I’m going with this.

Back when George W. Bush authorized the US invasion of Iraq, did anyone bother to get the whole picture or even ask the elder Bush’s opinion? (He knew enough to not invade Baghdad). So, we conquered Iraq, a Sunni controlled nation, and eventually executed Sadaam Hussein. Iran, a Shiite nation, must have been ecstatic. After years of having an Iraq/Iran power balance, we basically handed Iraq over to Iran. Maliki, a Shiite, and the Iraqi prime minister, was really a pawn of Iran. When he took vengeance and started murdering the now out-of-power Sunni population, they became desperate and turned to what is now ISIS. They didn’t want to be slaughtered.

This was all predictable.

Seeing the whole field before making a move is called wisdom.

We needed you Zac.

If you enjoyed reading, Inside the Mind of a Psychiatrist, you might also enjoy Dr. Smukler’s novels, Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.