What a bizarre title. Why on earth would anyone praise failure? This light bulb looks spectacular, but it sure as heck is not functional as a light bulb anymore.
We are taught to fear failure. In school, failing is a source of shame - we are supposed to get it right the first time. If you are the coach of a professional team, failure is guaranteed to earn you a one-way ticket out of your job. Other careers may be a little more forgiving, but in general, if you fail on a regular basis, you are regarded with contempt and pity. There is clearly something wrong with a broken light bulb, no matter how brightly it flares.
When I posted on Facebook the other day that I was planning to blog about failure, one person queried me about it and suggested writing about challenge instead. It's hard to accept that failure can be a good thing.
Another friend pointed me to this video of J.K. Rowling speaking on the benefits of failure:
The most striking words she says here, in my opinion, are that failure at the conventional life that her parents envisioned for her allowed her to concentrate on what she really wanted to do, namely her writing. If, she says, she had been successful at the other things she tried to do, she probably would never have had the discipline and the concentration to write, and the world would never have been enriched by Harry Potter.
I myself, in my life, have been very successful at things that turned out not to matter very much, and which ended up being mere stepping stones to an unexpected outcome of greater value. Many people would consider the acquisition of a Ph.D. in physics to be a very successful achievement - and yet it turns out I did not want to be a research physicist, and that attempting to fit myself into that mould led me into depression and bad choices. Ultimately, though, that Ph.D. program gave me the husband and family I have today.
A B.Ed. eventually followed, but I found that I was a very square peg in the round hole of high school teaching. While I loved working with the kids, the things that I had hated about high school thirty-five years ago were still there, unfortunately. However, those two years of my life that I sank into the B.Ed. program allowed me to advocate far more effectively for my children than I would ever have been able to without it. It also cemented the teaching skills I have always had intuitively, even if I never get a "real job" as a teacher.
Where am I going with this? I was always the kid with so much potential. I am sure I have been a disappointment to my parents and teachers who thought I would build a career in science or education or maybe something else.
I'm still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, how I can make an impact. Maybe I never will, but I hope and believe there is a contribution I can make to the redemption of the world. I just have to figure out what it is, given that every ostensible failure has led to an unexpected success in a different realm, and that I am not yet done with this journey. I am hopeful that my writing and teaching will help someone, somewhere, someday. That light bulb has failed in its ostensible purpose, but oh, what a gorgeous picture!
How about you, how have your failures given you unexpected gifts and strengths?