Failure: A step forwardIf you’re like me, things didn’t go all that well the first time you rode a bicycle.
By: Kevin Holten, The Dickinson Press
If you’re like me, things didn’t go all that well the first time you rode a bicycle. Nor did you hit a homerun the first time you stepped into a batter’s box or catch a fish the first time you cast a line or whistle the “Star Spangled Banner” the first time you tried blowing air through your lips.
You probably also soiled your shirt or blouse the first time you ate spaghetti, nudged the bumper of another car the first time you parallel parked and dropped a couple of tennis balls the first time you tried to juggle.
I remember when, as kids, we sent our friend Billy off on his bike for the first time and he rounded a corner and disappeared for what seemed like hours. Billy’s father owned a grocery store and they lived above it, so when he turned the corner, he was on Main Street, dodging traffic, and we found him later, a crumpled mess, at the base of the Farmer’s Union sign. He “crumpled” himself many more times before mastering that two-wheeler.
It’s not just you and I but even famous people are forced to enroll in the school of hard knocks. Thomas Edison went through plenty of investor’s wallets before his electric light bulb ever lit up the corner of a room much less all of Las Vegas, airport runways, disco dance floors and the Super Bowl.
“I’ve not failed,” Edison once said, “I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
God knows that I’ve made plenty of mistakes, you have and even Donald Trump has, declaring bankruptcy more than once. And then there’s John Edwards, the former presidential candidate, whose wife keeps talking about his cheating ways and Manny Ramirez, the latest baseball legend to get caught using performance-enhancing drugs.
It took NASA many rocket launches to put a man on the moon, the Los Angeles Angels 41 years to win the World Series and, most people, a lifetime to figure out who they are and what they want to do.
Margaret Mitchell took 10 years to write the civil war epic, “Gone With the Wind,” finishing it in 1929 and then it wasn’t published until 1936, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1937 and was made into an academy award winning film in 1939. That’s 20 years from concept to fame.
Sure, most people would consider Elvis Presley an overnight success, but even he traveled many road miles before he was discovered and then his career rose and fell like a coastal tide before he died with not that much money in the bank.
If I’m beginning to depress you, you shouldn’t be because, oddly enough, many people look back on their toughest times as some of their best. Even World War II veterans often say that they’d never do it again but wouldn’t trade their war experience for the world. And most often, failures aren’t failures at all, if you persevere, but stepping stones to the next big accomplishment. Edison said that, in the midst of his early failures, he wasn’t discouraged because every wrong attempt discarded was another step forward.
“Nearly every man who develops an idea, works at it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then gets discouraged,” said Thomas Edison. “That’s not the place to become discouraged.”
He also said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
In the next few weeks a wave of 4 million to 5 million high school and college graduates will wash across our land seeking fame, fortune, successful marriages, healthy kids, a mansion or two and three fast cars. It might be good to let them know that the years ahead won’t be a cakewalk, that the greatest pleasure is in the moment and that if they do what they like to do the most, money will come in bundles and if not, they won’t care anyway. Plus, perseverance and risk are required and failure isn’t an end but the next rung on the ladder.
And one more thing: Tell them to enjoy the ride.
— Dickinson resident Holten is the Dickinson State University Foundation communication coordinator.