Tuesday, August 11, 2009

We learn from our failures

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, things don’t work out exactly as we had planned. We fall, and sometimes we fall hard.

In the movie “Batman Begins,” Bruce Wayne has a flashback: He falls into a well as a young boy. His father, a doctor, sets his fractured arm, and he asks Bruce “Why do we fall?” The answer: So we can learn to pick ourselves up.

Later, Bruce Wayne’s butler and confidant, Alfred, asks Bruce the same question after rescuing him from his burning home. The answer doesn’t change.

Falling hurts. It makes us cry, and it makes us angry. But if we never learn to pick ourselves up, we will never learn to deal with life’s strikeouts. I’m dealing with one right now. More on that in a bit.

I always tell my sons that failures are the building blocks of success. I never really understood this as a teen, but it’s something my father would remind me about whenever I fell short of a goal.

On my first real knock-the-wind-out-of-me fall, I remember crying and my mom feeling helpless, unable to console me. “I just don’t understand why you are so upset,” she said.
Looking back, it was a really silly thing to be upset about — even if I was only 16. I wasn’t chosen to participate in a pageant.

“Dot,” my dad said, “she’s upset because she’s never failed at anything. This is a hard lesson for her. But a good one.”

He was right. It was. I learned more from failing than I ever would have from succeeding. Let me say that again — I learned more from failing than I ever would have from succeeding.
Of course, you couldn’t tell a know-it-all teen that then. That realization would take a few more years and some maturity. But as I grew older, I learned to appreciate my dad’s guidance and honesty. He was always there to help me up from my falls, but he expected me to get my legs moving afterward.

On this painful first-fall day, he looked at me with a loving smile and said, “When you’re done crying, get up and go.”

I think I cried a bit more, wallowing in my self-pity, but I eventually did get up and press on, never forgetting his wise words.

My failures have made me stronger and more determined to succeed. They’ve forced me to admit my shortcomings and figure out how to overcome them. And they’ve taught me that we have only truly failed when we allow the Monster of Defeat to overpower us and hold us down.
We don’t always understand the defining moments of our lives as they are happening. But when we look back, we can clearly see that along with the hits and home runs there are some strikes and strikeouts and that together they make the game. In the end, the winner is one who learns to deal with both.

I was reminded of this moment recently when a big, fat rejection slip came in the mail for a book manuscript I have been trying to place. Another failure. Another strike.

As I opened the letter, I could feel my dad’s presence, looking down on me from heaven. I saw his loving smile and heard him say, “When you’re done crying, get up and go.”

I know I’ll get up and go — but I need to cry a bit first.

First published in York Daily Record/Sunday News Nov. 4, 2007


  1. This post sums up what writer's go through everyday. If I learn from my failures, I must be getting pretty smart! I also write children's books, but have not yet been published. Undaunted, I keep reading about writing, writing, rewriting, submitting. Rinse, repeat.

  2. That's good preaching, sister!

    I'd like to link this post on my blog, if I may. http://www.jeanmatthewhallwords.blogspot.com.


  3. Absolutely Jean. You might enjoy the other ones. The tapestry is one of my favorites:)