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Failure’s Lessons

Failure is much more endearing than success. That thought occurred to me the other night after watching New York illusionist David Blaine perform his latest stunt on primetime national TV.

Early this month, some of my colleagues convinced me to check out Blaines human snow globe underwater endurance test here in New York. It was a beautiful spring day, and the site of the stunt was only a few blocks from our office, so I went for a walk. Once we got there, I found the whole thing pretty ridiculous. As the week wore on, however, something about the thought of Blaine holding his breath for nine minutes after nine days in the fish tank lured me in to watching the sweeps-week TV special. By the time the shows host, Stewart Booya! Scott, had sufficiently killed two hours of airtime building up to the finale, the stage was set. It was time for Blaine to chain himself down, disconnect from his air tank, take one last gulp of pollen-filled air, and hold his breath until his lips turned blue. Not once during the week had I ever considered that Blaine would fail at this goofy endurance test.

Two minutes! Youre doing great, David. Stay calm.

Nothing that appears as staged as David Blaines stunts always are, could possibly end in failure. How could two hours of network television hero building end in disappointment?

Three minutes. Looking good, David.

Doctors interviewed during the show all agreed that neither of Blaines water stunts could be done successfully. Not even Evel Knievel, the most daring of the dare devils, could stomach watching Blaines breath-holding practice, shown in a video clip earlier in the show.

Four minutes! Start working out of the chains, David. Take it slow.

Those final three minutes were pretty hard to watch as Blaine first unlocked his wrists, and then began to struggle with his leg restraints. His brain, obviously oxygen deprived, was not sending signals to his hands quickly enough. I found it hard to breathe, just sitting in my living room.

Six minutes! Safety divers in! Were getting you out, David. Hang on.

A telltale sign of air bubbles escaping from Blaines nose convinced the illusionists safety team that the stunt was over. The magician was in trouble. Rescue divers jumped into the 2,000-gallon tank, released Blaine from his shackles, and pulled him to safety. After having spent nearly 177 hours under water leading up to the final endurance stunt, Blaine had managed to survive without air for seven minutes and eight seconds. But he failed to beat the record of eight minutes, 58 seconds. Bummer.

The truth was that Blaines failure was much more real to me than his success would have been. I have found all of Blaines stunts (buried alive, encased in ice, standing on a tower for a week) to be pointless and uninspired. But when he came up short in his latest escapade, this guy who cant seem to find a real job, suddenly became human to me. I still dont get the point of it all, but Blaines failure to break the breath-holding record made me like the guy for the first time. After all, isnt it much easier to relate to failure than success? And, in many ways, theres much more to learn from lifes hurdles.

In the custom installation business, many of our most influential industry leaders have fallen short in their businesses at one time or another. I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that most entrepreneurs are risk takers, and risks almost always involve failure.

Many times, learning what not to do in business is as valuable as what to do. The key is to try to avoid making the same mistake twice. Even the best magicians fail at some point. David Blaine included. Just remember that when times get tough, make sure to stop and come up for a little air.