The two failure modes for smart people who are afraid of confronting failure is to either consistently take on low risk/low reward tasks or high risk/high reward tasks.

The low risk/low reward route is well recognized. Smart people who are accustomed to and depend on praise will consistently perform well below their level such that they are guaranteed success. The high risk/high reward phenomena is one I have seen less talked about.

When the risk is high, failure is expected and can be safely blamed on chance circumstances and the nature of the task. In the meantime, the rare success can be trumpeted as a mark of true skill. After realizing this, cases of when this occurs become obvious. Smart people will often deliberately up the ante and multiply contingencies upon contingencies and then when they fail, the excuse is “at least I tried”.

The true mark of talent is to perform difficult things consistently and without drama.

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