Failure By Degrees

I don’t like Any Given Sunday. At least, I don’t remember liking it. It felt long and bombastic (yes, I know it’s an Oliver Stone movie, but at his best he is truly great). And it’s about American Football.

Except – and if I had a spare weekend to watch it again perhaps I’d know this for certain – it now seems to me to be, really, about failure.

There’s a scene in it I’ve re-watched more than any other in any film. Yes, even more than the Patsy Kensit make-out scene in Lethal Weapon 2 when I was a teenager.

In it, head coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) tries to gee his team up before they go out to do whatever it is American Football players do between commercial breaks. And… well, the glory of the internet is you don’t need to read my mangled recollection of it, you can watch it here.

It’s something, embarrassingly enough, I sometimes listen to before professional challenges – whether it’s interviewing a film star or a great director or preparing to pitch for a screenwriting gig. And it works. At least it seems to. Buy me a pint and I’ll talk at length about many great experiences at work – from interviewing Jack Nicholson to visiting the sets of David Fincher. Buy me enough pints and, if you ask nicely, I might even stop.

The funny thing – probably obvious to you – is that it never occurred to me that the same thing applies to your personal life. You think – or, at least, I thought – life is about Big Decisions. Getting Married. Buying A House. Having Children. But, really, now it seems to me to be more about a series of little ones – those ones you don’t notice: which train to get if you want to make it back for bedtime; whether to make the phone call when you’re incredibly busy; how you speak to someone when you’re tired and they just don’t seem to fucking understand.

Those inches do make all the difference. It’s a question of degrees, really, I guess. And no doubt this has been said before more eloquently: if you chart your course a little wrong – just a degree or two out – then, over time, you can end up an awful long way from home.

I don’t know what my point is really, other than to counsel against doing that yourself. Just pay attention. Pay attention. Pay attention. Pay attention to what and – more importantly – who is around you. And, to quote a Vonnegut book I haven’t actually read: “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

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