Failure Is a Step Toward Success (Mike Robbins)

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Doctor Neha: Hi, and welcome. I am so excited to have my friend and fellow Hay House author Mike Robbins with me today. Welcome Mike.

Mike Robbins: Thanks for having me.

Doctor Neha: Absolutely, I am so happy that we’ve made time to sit down and talk about what’s real. One of the parts of your life that’s so fascinating is where you came from—an athletic background. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Mike Robbins: I played baseball my whole life, and the Yankees drafted me out of high school. I didn’t end up signing with the Yankees because I got an opportunity to play baseball at Stanford. So I went to Stanford and played baseball there then got drafted by the Kansas City Royals. The way it works in baseball is you sign with a major league team, and you still have to go into the minor leagues and try to work your way up. Unfortunately, for me I got injured during my third season in the minors.

Doctor Neha: Your elbow.

Mike Robbins: Yes, my elbow. As a pitcher, I hurt my arm and I was 23 at the time. Three surgeries later, I had to retire at 25. From the age of 7 until 25 baseball is what I did. I was good at it; it was my identity. There was a lot in it that I enjoyed, but there was also a lot of pressure and a lot of stress. Then I had to figure out after that what the hell am I going to do now?

Doctor Neha: It’s all you knew.

Mike Robbins: I wasn’t just Mike; I was Mike the baseball player. It ended up being a blessing, but at the time it was challenging.

Doctor Neha: We say that a lot. I left medicine and now it feels like a bit of a blessing. The journey to get from the pain to the blessing is the real deal.

Mike Robbins: It is.

Doctor Neha: It’s the real work, like a game on every level. How you show up, what you look like, what face you put out to the world—can you tell us a little bit about that?

Mike Robbins: When you watch a sport like baseball, football, soccer, you think of it as a team sport, but so much of the competition actually happens internally. I’ll give you an example. I get drafted in 1995 by the Kansas City Royals, sign a contract, and go off to play. The next spring the draft happens in June, and I go back to spring training down in Florida. At our very first meeting, all the pitchers are together. There are 75 pitchers at this meeting, and they tell us that there are another 25 pitchers across the street in the major league camp. That means 100 pitchers are in camp with the Kansas City Royals—and about 3 weeks later, they’re going to cut about 30 of us. We’d been drafted, we’d all signed contracts, and all of a sudden I realized these dudes are not my friends. It was literally like, “You and I could be really good friends, but it’s either me or you. There’s only one spot.” There’s so much internal competition. Even in our industry sometimes where it can get competitive, right?

Doctor Neha: Yeah.

Mike Robbins: In sports it’s so cutthroat. It’s not overtly nasty necessarily; it’s just literally like musical chairs, and they keep pulling the chairs away. You hope to God you still have a chair to sit in. That was probably one of the hardest parts about it. Most people who watch sports don’t even realize all that is going on.

Doctor Neha: I have several thoughts about what you just said. First of all, it’s about a winner and loser.

Mike Robbins: Yes.

Doctor Neha: That is part of what makes it hard to keep our world peaceful.

Mike Robbins: For sure.

Doctor Neha: If the basis is I’m going to take away a chair and someone going win and someone’s going to lose, it takes away the trust and the camaraderie. So now if I’ve got a choice about whether I’m going to survive or you’re going to survive, it’s such a primal place.

Mike Robbins: It is, and it puts separation between us. Look at our culture as a whole, though, whether we’re watching “The Voice” or “American Idol” or writing a book. You publish a book, your first book—what a journey to have that happen—it’s easy to then turn it into “How many books did I sell?” “What did people say, and who reviewed it?” and all these other things.

Doctor Neha: It’s a mental game.

Mike Robbins: It totally is.

Doctor Neha: I’m so glad you’re telling me this now, because I just wrote book number one, and you’re right, I wrote my book agent to ask, “How am I going to know if this is doing well? Tell me what it all means.” Today was my first book signing, and the connection between each person is why I did it. This is the moment I realized this book is going to help people. But then there’s the reality of the world we live in, which is you don’t get another book deal unless this one does well.

Mike Robbins: Right.

Doctor Neha: Then there’s a balancing act. Even on the baseball diamond, if you and I were both pitchers and one of us might get cut, there’s a way that I can still connect to you.

Mike Robbins: Absolutely. It’s interesting what you say about the book. I’ve written my third book, and I had a huge breakthrough actually writing this one. I wrote two books and my wife and I had two babies in a 3-year period, which was like drinking from a fire hose. With the second book, I thought, This one’s going to be a best-seller. This one’s going to make me famous. I didn’t know all that ego stuff was going on. The second book didn’t even do as well as the first book. And then I felt like, Oh my God, I failed. I’m a loser. All these issues came up.

But then I took five years between book two and book three, because writing books is hard and stressful, and I didn’t want to get in that game. So here’s what I realized when I was in the middle of writing book three, which was coming pretty easily. I thought, This is different; I kind of like this. The insight that I had was, You know what? Writing a book is actually pretty easy; it’s dealing with myself that’s the hard part.

Then I realized that’s true about everything. For example, being married is pretty easy, except when there’s a problem with me, right? Communication is actually pretty easy except when there’s something going on, and I think you don’t like me, or I think I’m stupid, or I think I’m saying the wrong thing, or whatever. Nothing Changes Until You Do is all about how to create a relationship with ourselves so that we get out of our own way.

So often in our culture we put so many measuring sticks on things for our success. Then when we don’t live up to that perfection demand, we deem it as a failure, when in reality, it’s whatever we say it is.

Doctor Neha: That is so true, because what is success even on the baseball field? It’s what other commentators and people say about you in the media.

Mike Robbins: Completely. One of things that I appreciated about my baseball experience is that it taught me how to lose, because baseball is a game full of failure. I was a pitcher, but if you’re a hitter and you bat 300 in baseball, that means you 7 out of 10 times you fail. Yet if you hit 300 you’re doing really well—so you have to learn how to fail. Now when you “fail” as a pitcher, they literally stop the game and take you out in front of everybody. It’s about as humiliating as anything. It taught me a lot about how I get very attached to my outcomes and results, and it’s all about achievement.

Doctor Neha: You’re an achiever.

Mike Robbins: At the same time, I do know how to fail. I know how to fail publicly. I don’t like it, but I’ll live.

Doctor Neha: You’re willing to do it.

Mike Robbins: Yes.

Doctor Neha: You’re willing to take the risk, because not taking the risk is more painful.

Mike Robbins: Right, whether it’s in relationships, whether it’s in communication, whether it’s in business, whether it’s in anything. The things we mostly regret are the stuff we don’t do, the stuff we’re too scared to try. When you really try and fail at something, even if it’s really painful, to me it feels way better than not trying at all. At some level if you don’t try, it makes all these what-ifs, could haves, and should haves, as opposed to giving it my best shot and I failed. I can live with that.

Doctor Neha: You know what’s so funny, Mike, at the back of my book, I wrote, “I finally completed this book, but I’m the one who’s been rewritten.” The struggle certainly for me was getting out of my own way and getting past the idea that I thought it had to be a best-seller. I was trying to keep an enormous amount of control, but what would surrender look like?

Mike Robbins: For what it’s worth, what I’ve learned in this process is you can’t control it. You’ve done your part.

Doctor Neha: Isn’t it that way in life?

Mike Robbins: It is. At some level, someone said this to me about my very first book, “You know what? You can’t screw this up. You did the hard part.” The point of it is that at some level, if this book, or any book, is going to be wildly successful, it’s not actually all up to you.

Doctor Neha: No, actually it’s not up to me at all.

Mike Robbins: Robert Holmes said this great thing to me a while back. I was interviewing him about success. He said, “Remember when you were in school and you really liked somebody? Then the more you tried to like them, the less they liked you and they’d go away. Then you’d stop liking them, and all of sudden they liked you—that’s kind of how success is. The more you try to force it, the harder it is. Then when you let go, it comes to you.” That’s such a great way to think about it.

It’s not to say that hard work or focus is not important, but the hardest part is surrendering and just letting it happen.

Doctor Neha: It is such a joy to talk to you. I’m going to watch your TEDx talk; I just got the link. How was that experience?

Mike Robbins: It was great. I gave this new talk called, “Bring Your Whole Self to Work,” which I’m excited about, because so much of my work these days is in the corporate world. Talking about how can we fully show up authentically, even with all those stories that I can’t or What if they knew this? orI can’t say that or I can’t do this.

Doctor Neha: Check your heart at the door?

Mike Robbins: Exactly. We’re moving into a new space in the world. Even in the business world where it’s really more about bringing our heart, bringing our soul, bringing all of who we are.

Doctor Neha: This is going to be fantastic. There’s not an abundance of people in the world who are willing to get on camera and say the things that you’re saying. It’s just such a joy and I think it gives other people permission to be who they are.

Mike Robbins: Thank you.

Doctor Neha: If you want to learn more, visit Mike-Robbins.com; you’ll find his TEDs talk and book information there.

Send me your questions—drop me a tweet at #askdoctorneha or write your question and comments down below.

To hitting it out of the park,

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