On Failure

I flunked it. I did. Introductory French. A “D” grade. My sophomore year in high school. Having been a straight-A student and president of the Junior Honor Society at junior high the prior year, this was devastating. Failure had never been a word to describe any activity in my life (other than in sixth grade when I was the captain of the football team and we lost every game). Mom was concerned that I not lose any credits for graduation, so off to summer school I went. Summer school! Only dummies went there, or so I felt at the time. Sixteen years old with a summer of fun ahead–and there I sat in summer school every morning. My friends were out swimming, going places, enjoying their summer–and there I sat in summer school every morning. I had sufficient ingredients for a pity party. But that never happened. Thanks to Mom.

Instead of berating me or complaining of my failure or questioning why I hadn’t studied more, Mom treated the event as a routine exercise, a non-event. She mentioned it being a great opportunity to take an advanced typing course to build on the typing skills I had learned in an earlier ninth grade course, emphasizing that it was just a few hours each morning and there would still be the rest of the day to enjoy summer, that there would be no homework, that the typing skill would pay off manyfold, and that many teenagers hadn’t begun their day until noon, anyway. That summer school came and went, I still enjoyed that summer, and those typing skills put me ahead of others in many areas in years to come. A skill I had never envisioned to be useful, but Mom had. A summer of possible embarrassment and personal ill-feeling avoided.

What I learned that summer was that failure didn’t mean a personal disaster. Failure gives an opportunity to see the world through a different window, and an opportunity to revisit what caused the unanticipated result. Failures also help you see who your friends are, who stands by you. One of the lessons I learned was that when facing failure, I should talk about it with someone I trust; hiding the issue can become a downward spiral. I also discovered that failure only speaks to anticipated performance in an activity and does not judge the person. There have been many more failures in my life since then, and each time I strive to determine whether it was a failure, possibly a misunderstood task, or possibly a lesson or detour that led me in a better direction. Looking back, every success in my life was preceded by what I had thought at the time to be a failure. And, being in the autumn of my life, I also realize that if I’m not failing, I’m not trying. Failures are the experiences that add depth to this short life. And life is good.