Disappointing First Attempt

Don’t judge your performance based on your first attempt. Judging ourselves based upon the results of our first attempt is an unfortunate tendency we human beings have. It’s a tendency that does not serve us well.


I was watching an episode of The Voice. The singer’s nerves prevented her from demonstrating her true vocal capabilities, but she still managed to get one coach to turn for her.

Her experience triggered memories of my experiences with first attempts at presenting new material in my speeches. I vividly recalled how my concern about forgetting something stripped my presentation of its fluidness, the humor I normally inject and the genuineness of my interest in the welfare of the audience. I also recalled how each of these elements returned as I presented the program again and again.

First Attempt, Fourth Agreement

My memories of first-attempt results triggered another memory, that of the fourth agreement proposed by don Miguel Ruiz (opens in a new link) in his book, The Four Agreements (opens in a new link). In the fourth agreement we agree to do our best everyday knowing that our best is going to vary from minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day.

This profound insight helps me be comfortable in the knowledge that I did my best on that first attempt, knowing that my performance will improve with each subsequent performance.

For you

The next time you’re dissatisfied with your performance, whether it’s the first attempt or not, remind yourself that you did your best in that moment, and, more importantly, that you will do better in the future.

We humans have these images of the ideal in our heads. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as we realize three things:

  1. Ideals are rarely, if ever, attained.
  2. The fact that we haven’t attained the ideal is a great motivator for those of us who strive for excellence in what we do.
  3. Falling short of the ideal in no way diminishes the value others receive from our efforts.

To this last point, even on my worst days as a speaker I have people come up to me after the program and say “That’s the message I needed to hear today. Thank you.” In other words, we don’t have to be at our best to enrich the lives of others. We only need to, as Emerson says, “sincerely try [emphasis added] to help others.”

For our kids

When you notice kids being harsh in their assessment of their performance, share with them two things:

  1. The fourth agreement. It’ll make them aware that our best varies and that’s okay.
  2. Share with them some of the disappointments you felt with your performance and how that helped spur you to better performances in the future.

These two simple steps will help the kids in your life retain the confidence they possess even when their performance isn’t what they intended it to be. Your kids will also find it easier to believe comments they receive from other people about how they were helped by what your child said or did.

Helping kids avoid judging themselves based on the results of a first attempt will assure them richer, fuller lives…what we all want for the kids in our lives.

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2 Responses

  1. Bill Prenatt

    Dale, Great insights as usual. My Mom used to say ‘try and try again until you succeed’. That was wise council!

    • dfurtwengler

      Mothers are so wise. It’s a shame we didn’t listen better as kids…speaking from personal experience.

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