Fail Better

Oliver Napoleon Hill, one of America’s greatest writers about self-improvement, motivation, and success once said “In every adversity lies the seed of an equal or greater opportunity.”  In achieving a difficult goal, Hill conceptualized that the greatest reward was not in reaching the goal, but instead was in the will to continue in the face of growing doubts bred from failures.  Most importantly to note is that Hill did not state “failure.”  Critical to his concept was the kinetic word “failures.”

Everyone can make a long list of failures throughout their life; hopefully.  If all hopes and dreams were easily gained, they would have little satisfaction and soon be forgotten.  But it is the exhausting roads and persistent belief that with each setback, with each refinement of imperfection and expectation that create the most astonishing most memorable life experiences – to perhaps cauterize a realization that life and death work together, not in conflict.  Neither need be feared.  Contrary to antiquated religious teachings, no ‘stand-in’ is required, no depraved condition exists within us unless it is taught, accepted or internalized, and manifested as less-than capable by one’s self-will and surrounded environment chosen.  No, quite the opposite should be taught:  failures are a good option!

Care to revisit some famous failures that came with some spectacular silver linings?

1492 – Geneon explorer Christopher Columbus never did make it to India’s spices and wealth, but instead found much more; so much more that it changed the entire world. *

1804-06 – Cartographers and explorers Lewis and Clark set out to find a water passage from Midwest America to the Pacific Ocean.  No such route exists, however, they documented the land, people, plants and animals which led to the bargain-basement steal of the Louisiana Purchase. *

1896 – Nineteenth century German engineer Otto Lilienthal first pioneered glider-flight that soon inspired the Wright brothers to powered-flight in America.  Days later Lilienthal was killed in a flying accident attempting to perfect his glider. *

1937 – During the latter stages of Women’s Suffrage, aviatrix Amelia Earhart vanished while attempting to fly around the Earth’s equator.  Regarding women’s rights she was quoted earlier saying, “[women’s] failure must be but a challenge to others.” *

1940 – The Tacoma Narrows Bridge had only been completed 4-months prior to its collapse due to high winds.  Wind impact had not yet been fully understood during construction.  Following bridge designs around the world included stabilizing measures and construction. *

1946-56 – Discovery of the 972 texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Khirbet Qumran, Israel, convincingly showed a much more comprehensive portrait and subsequently more diverse Second Temple Jerusalem than was traditionally portrayed in the canonical Christian Gospels; further confirming the truer nature of Judaism as opposed to the warring oppressive Greco-Roman version of later early-Christian groups closer to Rome.  For one example of the two 1st century CE severe divergences, read Sign of Jonah in Talpiot Tomb confirmed just this year.

1970 – The Apollo 13 lunar mission failed due to an oxygen tank explosion lethally damaging the flight crew’s breathing system and service module.  However, with ingenious adaptation and resourcefulness NASA brought all astronauts back home safely and with several critical later spacecraft changes. *

1991 – Locking eight scientists in a sealed terrarium called Biosphere 2 did not go as planned:  food shortages, bad air, and “crazy ants” cut it short.  Columbia University then the University of Arizona has since used it for successful eco-bio research. *

1993 – The Apple Newton is recognized as Apple Corporation’s biggest failure.  The personal electronic assistant expired after 6-years of mediocre sales, but led the way for today’s highly popular iPad. *

1998 – NASA launched the Mars Climate Orbiter to examine the Martian climate.  After a 287-day journey and over-budget costs the probe likely incinerated in the Martian atmosphere.  The problem?  NASA used the metric system in its designs, but the engineering team at Lockheed Martin used English units of measure.  Now regular Martian orbiters and land-rovers explore the red planet with feasible developing plans of mining, colonization, and making Mars a leap-frog point into deeper parts of our solar system. *
[ * – National Geographic Magazine, Sept. 2013]
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On a more personal level, an intimate level, these concepts are ever truer for our relationships, especially in marriage and parenting a family.  Some of our best virtues can be born and honed with a marital partner and raising messy failing succeeding children.  And the more the better!

Failure and success coexist.  Though we may have been taught they are dire enemies, they are really identical twins from the same mother:  a life and death well-made and well told.

If you can keep your head when all about you
  Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
  But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
  Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
  And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
  If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
  And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
  Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
  And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
  And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
  And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
  To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
  Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
  Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
  If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
  With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
  And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

If — by Rudyard Kipling

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How many wonderful failures have you made this week?  Was one of them epic?  Profound?

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23 thoughts on “Fail Better

  1. Delicious food for thought. I’m probably harder on myself than any human currently breathing, and while I definitely learn from past experiences, I tend to walk around sometimes in a fog of despair at all that I’ve done wrong with my life. (including excessive run-on sentences in comments) 🙂
    I wonder what inspired this post? A particular failure or summation of the good from bad?


    • First, thank you so much KGG for continuing to stop by even when my time, schedule, family, career, etc, severely limit my time to visit, follow, and comment on other blogs I follow. I want you to know that means a lot to me. 🙂

      Yes, a couple of events inspired this post, but this has been my revised mentality/attitude/spirit since 1991-92 and up to even yesterday. LOL


  2. Great point, my friend…and great examples. Through the years I’ve begun to see failure differently. Sometimes what we initially see as failure is simply another direction revealing itself (Columbus), but other times failure is simply the jumping off point for bigger success.

    Regardless, it all boils down to how you approach each “failure” and your ability to adjust your mindset. I seriously doubt that when Columbus realized that he had not discovered India, but rather found a practically new, barely discovered world that he wept, gnashed his teeth and flagellated himself. Pretty sure he got excited about the possibility of a new discovery.

    So often we let the word failure overrule & overtake any positives. We get so wrapped up in it that we fail to notice all the good that could be if we’d just change our attitudes.

    Great post!


    • Glad you liked it Kitt!

      Yes, I’ve learned this concept even more deeply and broadly in my “alternative” relationships too. “Failing” in relationships or close friendships is UNfortunately viewed as eternally final after just one or two “failures”. Not applying this same concept/principle to personal relationships greatly puzzles me. Why should it be any different?


  3. I agree that success would mean little if it were easy. That we often have to and fail and try and fail and try and fail before finding success — if we ever do — is, yes, what makes success so powerful. Failure in relationships is somewhat harder to conceptualize…. But it’s true there, too. One of the coolest things about growing older was realizing that my parents are people just like me… In romantic relationships, though… Sigh. I won’t even go there. But in other areas, yes, “failures” such as Columbus’s landing on a different continent than planned can lead to successes of a different sort than planned. If my life had gone the way I’d planned, I’d have been married by now and never have traveled abroad the way that I have… I’m so glad I failed at getting married. Great post!


    • Jessica,

      Mentioning your divorced(?) parents is probably our ‘new’ inner-frontier, yet uncharted, unexplored, and yes, the place of dragons so to speak. As I was mentioning to Atreyu, applying this awkward concept to fatherhood is and has been a MAJOR challenge for me. But in all other walks of life it is by comparison much easier! 🙂

      With regard to your successful broadening travels outside of marriage, I see many connections with our genetic personality traits (e.g. my DRD4-7R post) and those traits/genetics of our romantic partners — some fit perfectly, many are polarizing or merely (but importantly) platonic. However, like a 5,000-piece puzzle, discovering those “perfect fits” are more difficult (impossible?) if we don’t first discover, shape and refine our own ‘edges’. 🙂


  4. Now that my buttocks are in gear, here’s my two denarii.

    I couldn’t agree more. Failures are a perplexing beast because they teach us much more about ourselves and instigate greater, sweeter successes than having at it with no glitches, errors or let-downs. As inconvenient and downright ‘epic’ as they can be, failures make us grow.

    I think your point about personal, intimate relationships, was very apposite. My ex broke my heart, but I don’t regret a thing and I’m grateful for the ‘lesson’ because he did me a favour by forcing me to realise that I can do better and bloody well deserve better. I’m a big fan of Nietzsche’s destruction theory. Sometimes we need to self-destruct to achieve greatness.


    • So happy for your buttocks!!!

      My Lady Crimmins, your attitude and interpretation of your relationship with your ex and Nietzsche reference are perfect examples of a new growing interpersonal paradigm; they are already teaching the concept in America’s Ivy League business schools! There are NO REASONS why the concept cannot be taught and applied in our personal relationships. However, I must confess that I find it very difficult sometimes to apply it with my children’s mother, i.e. I have become a less-than part-time father not only when the divorce was final in 2001, but when she later moved them over 300 miles away three years later with her husband. Being less-than a part-time father goes against every cell in my body! I wasn’t raised that way, I can’t comprehend being anything other than the ‘world’s greatest father.’ Yet, how does one do that without being in their lives every single day, seven days and nights a week?

      As you might imagine, applying my “Fail Better” concept is actually very easy in my daily, public career life, but quite a different story within fatherhood. Hah!


  5. I say that people succeed and fail by degrees every day-I wrote an article about that; I don’t know if I’ve published it yet. I think it’s in queue.

    Also, it’s the people who strive to win at living versus those who do not care if they win at living, that make the difference.


  6. I had to Google Clayton Paul and I assume you are referring to Dr. Clayton R. Paul of electromagnetic compatibility fame? If that is the case, then thank you (I think?) for the mention of latitude. Yet, some readers/viewers might consider reading an engineers manual or instructions, manuscripts, etc., highly boring. If that is how you mean the appreciation, then thank you for your candor! *laughing loudly*

    I’ve been told by many friends and former wives, hell even my own daughter, that I can be too cerebral and abstract sometimes. 😉


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