Failure comes in many shapes and forms. Like this, for instance:
Horrifying, right? Last Christmas I tried to make stuffed Chewbaccas for my family. In the past I’ve successfully made Totoros and Tribbles and Adipose, but last year? Not only once, but twice I failed to make anything not terrifying.
(Seriously, my four-year-old took a startled step back when I showed them to him. He made me hide them in the closet, where I found them again as I was reorganizing recently.)
I had carefully planned these Chewbaccas, bought the perfect furry fabric, drew up the patterns, cut and stitched, but when it came to stuffing them, bizarreness ensued.
I’ve been thinking a lot about failure, how it gets us to places where we didn’t expect to be. I love what J. K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter, has said about failure:
. . . Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
My botched Chewbaccas aren’t on the same level of disappointment as Ms. Rowling’s early career, but I’ve encountered failures myself, some quite epic, which I don’t feel the need to reveal here. But Rowling’s words are profound when she remarks that succeeding in one arena would have meant she wouldn’t have arrived where she really needed to be.
Think back to when you were in high school, or college: what dreams did you have? Are you anywhere near where you expected to be?
I’m not. I’m miles away.
And I’m glad of that.
To my high school self, who and where I am now would have been seen as a disappointment. But looking back, I realize that my younger self failed to see where I really should be, what I needed to accomplish.
Failure, to one person, may be a raving success to another. I’m grateful for maturity and wisdom that have helped me see that I don’t want certain “successes,” and that what seems like “failure” can actually be a profound achievement. It merely depends on our situations in life, our perspective, and what we think is important.
I’m reminded of the story of a successful scientist who created life-saving medical devices. When asked about his upbringing, he told the story of his impoverished parents, and how they encouraged him to get more than the 8th grade education they had. Someone commented that it must have been difficult to be raised by such failures. But the scientist was startled by that comment, and replied that his parents had been the greatest successes he’d ever known. Thrust into their difficult circumstances, they still raised confident, ambitious children who accomplished marvelous things. Had life been easier, he surmised, their family likely would have been very average. Their earlier “failures” paved the way for their children’s accomplishments.
Not every failure is a later success, though. And sometimes, success morphs into failure, like these recipes.
How did such dishes of terror and texture come to be? (Click here and here to see even more recipes just like Grandma used to make, if you dare.)
Realize that these combinations went through some kind of review or committee, that several people had to experiment, taste, and decide, “Yes, these are the winners! Photograph and publish them!”
Which goes to prove that even a group of people with power and authority can make horribly wrong judgments.
We now see these recipes and shudder with thoughts of, “What were they thinking?!”
Why was this considered a success back then, and an utter failure a few decades later? What set of circumstances led people with the same taste buds as us to believe that mayonnaise improves every dish, that Jell-O can be considered a salad with the right veggies thrown in, and that SPAM is edible?
For that matter, what raving “successes” do we consider now will be regarded as dismal failures in the future?
But, likewise, what catastrophes are we experiencing now will be later seen as the beginnings of marvelous triumphs?
Perhaps the message here is, don’t discount your failures too quickly. Don’t harp on yourself too much for the disappointments you encounter, or even cause. Who knows, they just may be getting you on the road to victory.
Unless it involves Jell-O, mayo, SPAM, or disfigured Chewbaccas. Sometimes, a failure is a failure.
But maybe not always.
Halloween’s coming up.
Whereas my Chewies failed as Christmas gifts, they’ll likely be fantastic as Halloween decorations.
Maybe it’s just all about timing.
“Colonel Shin,” Captain Thorne started, “if they’re incapable of making intelligent choices—”
“They can’t learn to make those choices if they aren’t given the opportunity, Thorne,” Perrin told him. “Give them the opportunity to learn.”
“Failure is part of learning, Captain. It’s not to be shunned—it’s to be embraced and learned from. Would you really want someone making all your decisions for you?”
~Book Four: The Falcon in the Barn