It’s Not Failure

In 2005, I worked with an old friend to develop a training program for our company. We wanted a program that had clear objectives and a consistent feel. He developed a framework for a series of one-hour sessions that would cover a wide variety of technical subjects, and he developed the first few sessions. One of the ways he helped us gain consistency was to have us always begin with a similar agenda, a set of expectations, a quote and a poem. I was so impressed with the poem, that I never changed it. We completed over 50 different training sessions, and each one included a slide that showed:

The road to wisdom? — Well, it’s plain
and simple to express:
Err
and err
and err again
but less
and less
and less.

Technically, this is a grook. It was written by Piet Hein (1905 – 1996), a Danish mathematician, scientist, inventor, and poet.

What I love most about this grook, is the acknowledgement of failure. So many people try to hide failure. Sometimes, they want to hide it out of embarrassment and sometimes they want to hide it out of fear. I don’t want to fail, but when I do, I want to learn from failure.

There of tons of quotes about failure. Almost all of them mirror the thoughts of that old adage we were taught as children. You know: “if at first you don’t…” Yeah, that one. I’m not going to list the quotes, but I thought I’d drop a few names. Here’s a short list of people who don’t/didn’t mind failing, because it means that they tried:

Michael Jordan
Colin Powell
Theodore Roosevelt
Ernest Hemingway
Winston Churchill
Thomas Edison
Bill Gates
Benjamin Franklin
J. K. Rowling
Edwin Land

Stepstool

The inlays cover my mistakes and the screws holding the stair treads to the stringers.

I’ll leave you story of one of my failures. The stepstool shown at the right, wasn’t supposed to look like that. I made that little set of steps so our daughter could get her own cereal bowl from the upper cabinets when she was little girl. The walnut inlays accenting each step are actually the result of a mistake. I accidentally cut the dadoes for the steps on the wrong side of one of the stringers, so I cut both slots in both stringers, glued in the walnut inlays and called it a “design element”.

About Dan Antion

Husband, father, woodworker, cyclist, photographer, geek - oh wait, I’m writing this like I only have 140 characters. I am all those things, and more, and all of these passions present me with opportunities to observe, and think about things that I can’t write about in other places. I have started this blog to catch the stuff that falls out, overflows and just plain doesn’t fit the other containers in my life.
This entry was posted in Inspiration, Perspective and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

72 Responses to It’s Not Failure

  1. Comparatively shorter than your regular posts, but very good and effective. To be honest Dan, people today are always making attempts to hide their failures, but the moment you make one they’re ready to jump on you and make you feel miserable. When I got the opportunity to work as a writer (which I never intended to become) I made mistakes. Sometimes the grammar was not good, sometimes the content was not in sync with the topic and so on. Some clients were kind enough to give me a second chance, some were cruel enough to make feel I was the worst writer living on the planet. However, my friends made me realize that I was better than them, I was better than many writers who never tried and that I have to be open to accepting my failures and shortcomings with a smile, work on it (if I can) and redo it. This August I will complete 7 years as a professional writer (I never thought I would pull this off), but failures worked for me a stepping stone towards where I’m heading. I still fail, I get rejections and correction work to do, but that doesn’t make me feel sad. I know there are certain topics I don’t write well due to lack of experience, knowledge, and interest, so I avoid those. In Hindi there’s a quote: Agar aap jeet gaye toh khush honge, agar aap haar gaye toh samajdar. It means – If you win, you’ll be happy. If you lose you’ll be wise.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Dan Antion says:

      I like that quote Sharukh. I am trying to keep my posts shorter. Not this short, but my first few drafts of this were way too long. I decided that most people will get this message pretty quickly, so I figured I could leave the examples out. Except for the step stool, that’s one of my favorite failures. BTW, I have been impressed with your writing since I started following your blog, and you are still getting better :)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks Dan. You’ve always encouraged me to do better. However, writing blogs and writing professionally is a bit different. When I write for my own, I just go with the flow. When I write for clients, there are certain requirements, target audience, keywords, SEO parameters and so on. Sometimes, the list of requirements can be so long and intimidating, the creative aspect goes out of the window, so I have to understand what the client really wants and write from his perspective and keep aside my bias and thoughts. Its very hard to do that initially because you have to convince someone about something that you don’t agree with or don’t believe.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Dan Antion says:

          I struggle with a similar type of problem when designing and building systems. Learning to lead people to a better conclusion is difficult. I think that’s why I like blogging so much, I only really have to please myself.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Yeah, and that’s exactly why I freelance. When I take up a job, I have to please so many people within the firm, almost impossible. These intellectual guys step into the creative process which I don’t like and I’m pretty verbal about that, so when I tell them to step behind, I am labelled as arrogant, egoistic and unprofessional.

            Like

        • Same with painting for yourself or painting for commission, which is nervewracking…

          Liked by 1 person

  2. reocochran says:

    There are so many geniuses also writers, artists and musicians who weren’t discovered until years after mistakes and trials were made, Dan. Thoughtful post and two sayings occur to me. Your shelving looks great to me, by the way!
    “To err is human, to forgive divine” and
    “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again!” :)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. bikerchick57 says:

    If at first you err,
    cover it up,
    with nice wood.
    Then try again.
    The end.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Dan Antion says:

      Exactly :)

      Also known as poverty if the real mother of invention. At the time I made those steps, we had recently closed our cabinet shop and were digging out of debt. I made that from scrap, but I didn’t have another piece and really couldn’t afford to buy one.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. bikerchick57 says:

    I would have never known by looking at that photo. You did great with what you had.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. The reality is that I normally learn more when I make a mistake. I love the step stool. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Norm 2.0 says:

    Our mistakes can be our best teachers, as long as we can overcome our fragile egos and acknowledge the mistake. To me this is truly the most challenging part of the human experience.
    In woodworking it’s easy: we fix it and if anyone points out the error we simply tell them “Yeah, I was trying something different there.” :-D

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think the step stool looks great — whether or not that was what you first had in mind. Have a marvelous Monday.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. joey says:

    I agree, I love success, but failure is often essential to it. I’ve read that’s one of the MBTI ‘IN’ traits, that INs value all experiences, because we succeed or we learn and we like both equally well. Most of my learning takes place in writing, cooking, and sewing. But you know, occasionally I like to fail at wifery, planting, or eyeliner. I’m open to it all :)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dan Antion says:

      Fortunately, I don’t have to deal with eyeliner mistakes. I am open to most errors though, they almost always help rule something out. I never heard that it was an ‘IN’ trait, but I guess if the shoe fits…

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post, Dan. I think we forget the importance and role of failure in our lives. It means we tried, sometimes stretching and taking risks. The alternative could be pretty dull indeed.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Paul says:

    Very true, Dan. I think pride and unreasonable expectations for near-instant success keep a lot of people from succeeding. This reminds me of what Thomas Edison said about how he hadn’t failed in his unsuccessful attempts to create a light bulb; he had just found X number of ways that didn’t work — and he needed only one to make it work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      I think “X” was about 1,000 Paul, but the results changed the world. I think the “unreasonable expectations for near-instant success” is perhaps becoming a stronger force, as everything seems to be happening faster. I hope there are still people willing to suffer a few failures. If not, we’re missing out on some good stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Almost Iowa says:

    It is always refreshing when someone says, “I screwed up” in a meeting.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. That little step stool got to me today. The first thing that hit me was you taking the time to enable a little one to take charge of her own day. The second thing that hit me was that stool is even more special sine it is a celebration of success over failure. If you had made the stool “right” the first time the character element would be missing. Thanks. Dan for the inspiration today.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. marianallen says:

    Love the steps, love the “grook,” love the attitude. You get an A+ on the Daddy Scale, Dan! That one project taught your daughter a world’s worth of lessons on thoughtfulness, determination, capability, creativity — and how to cover up mistakes so people admire them. heh. Seriously, this is one of my favorites of my many favorites of your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Wendy Brydge says:

    Thinking of how you saved the step stool brings to mind a wonderful Bob Ross quote: “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Exactly, Wendy. I’ve had more than a few in my shop. So many, that my wife no longer feels bad, until I actually have to throw something out.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wendy Brydge says:

        Ha, and even then I’ll bet you don’t actually “throw it out”. My dad is always saving scrap pieces and I think, “What the heck will you EVER do with that??” And lo and behold, it may be 5 years down the road, but I’ll be darned, he uses it! And always adds the obligatory remark, “See? Isn’t it good I messed that up and saved it? I wouldn’t have been able to fix/make THIS if I hadn’t!”

        Which brings to mind another good quote: “Waste not, want not”!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Dan Antion says:

          In the event that I truly scrap something beyond use or repair, I cut it for kindling for the wood stove. Each year, I give my wife several bundles of “custom, kiln-dried kindling” to use. I don’t think wood every ends up in the trashcan.

          My daughter shakes her head when I mention that I was able to fix something with a piece of something else she would have loved for me to toss out years ago. As an only child, she worries about the day she will have to clear the shop.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Wendy Brydge says:

            Well, I certainly know that feeling. I used to worry about having to clear stuff out, but the older I get, the more I find myself thinking like my dad. And now I worry that my problem will be that I want to KEEP it all. B/c hey, I might use it. Someday. O_o

            Liked by 1 person

  15. This post of yours offers such encouragement, Dan. Thank you for showing how easy it can be to just try and be okay with the outcome. Lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Dan, thanks for introducing me to grooks. I, too, think your step stool looks great and I very much enjoyed and agreed with your post. When doing something new and different failure isn’t an option, it’s going to happen. When I started my new, part time job, I didn’t immediately do everything right and even after well over a year, there are still things I sometimes screw up. I just try not to do the same ones or repeat a failure too often. :-)

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Thanks Janet. I try not to make the same mistakes, but I have to confess to cutting “Facing” components on the wrong side a few more times. It’s so easy to get in the groove and forget that you need to flip one over.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. GP Cox says:

    Your step stool ended up looking rather unique. (Maybe you shouldn’t tell people it was a mistake!?!)

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Some of the greatest things have come from a “whoops”!! Heaven knows I’ve done a number of those!! You’re right…the secret is to learn from it or turn it into something really cool like the step stool….I like it!!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Prior-2001 says:

    wonderful post and powerful example.

    I was just reading a failure quote from MJ- about how many shots he missed – and I think 26 times he was given the ball to make a game winning shot that he missed-
    anyhow, my fav of the post was this:

    The road to wisdom? — Well, it’s plain
    and simple to express:
    Err
    and err
    and err again
    but less
    and less
    and less.

    ha

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Fear of failure keeps a lot of people from taking that first step, but as George Bernard Shaw said, “A life making mistakes is not only more honourable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing at all.” Your wonderful correction of a mistake proves that, Dan. I think it looks better with the ‘correction’ :)

    Liked by 1 person

  21. joannesisco says:

    I really like your “design feature”. It was a clever solution to correcting a mistake.

    I was lucky to have spent the bulk of my career working for a company that truly believed that it wasn’t whether or not you made a mistake … it was how the mistake was handled and corrected that really mattered. As a result, we had a few major “disasters” that were defused with the customer because of how it was handled.
    One customer, a major bank in Canada, went so far as to say they were so impressed with our handling of the problem, it increased their confidence in us as a service provider.

    Unfortunately that’s really rare to find these days. It’s mostly beat people up for miss-stepping, regardless how small. Small wonder most people are afraid to step out of their comfort zone.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Peter Nena says:

    “Don’t hide failure. Learn from it.”
    That’s a great statement. I think failure also means . . . at least you know one way it won’t work. So try another way.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. It is why I blog my failures and my struggles. I started this blog when I switched from acrylics to watercolors. It’s been two years, and posting my struggles learning that has been good for many readers. I get paid for my brushstrokes every day in our business (oil, shellac, traditional stains), but most artists are people with a hobby, and so they have no idea why they are not “good” which is a combination of #1 time spent with brush in hand; #2 the willingness to fool around or play or experiment — which takes a lot of the child and not so much ego — and #3 trusting your direction once you have some skills, and #4 natural abilities or “talent”. The first three are the bulk of what makes an Artist….. Gads I seem to write many of my blog posts in response to your posts, like conversations… here is another… Thanks, Dan!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. AmyRose🌹 says:

    Take my word for it I just had a LONG comment for you and it got gobbled up. I’ve been having so many tech problems lately I could scream. *getting BP under control* I think you are a genius because out of a failure, or what you call a failure, beauty was created. LOVED this post, Dan!! <3

    Liked by 2 people

  25. An accident which resulted in a beautiful hand crafted step stool! I’m sure it’s a treasured piece now.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Kinderhook88 says:

    It’s not a mistake if you can correct it.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Aunt Beulah says:

    I like the poem, Dan. I copied it and added it to my file “Poems and Quotes to Read Again” Because of it’s stark simplicity and perfect message, It’s nestled against my favorite Dorothy Parker quote. When she was asked how one becomes a writer, she replied: read, read, read, write, write, write.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan Antion says:

      Ooh, now I have to copy that and add it to my notes about writing. That’s such good advice about reading and doing. This little poem has stuck with me for over 10 years. It’s so simple but so true.

      Like

  28. Pingback: Overworked / Failure | D.Katie Powell Art

Add your thoughts. Start or join the discussion. Sadly, links require moderation.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s