During this Thanksgiving holiday, we are reminded to reflect on the bounty in our lives. Most of us have jobs, family, a place we call home and food on the table, and for these things and our ability to obtain them we should be grateful.
But what about those who are struggling with financial difficulties, bad relationships, or employment problems? Do they owe any thanks for their circumstances? Can failure really be a gift in disguise?
Failures teach us about process
Thomas Edison tried over 9,000 designs before he created a working light bulb. A young reporter asked him how he felt after having failed 9,000 times. Edison replied, “I didn’t fail – I just learned 9,000 ways how not to make a light bulb.”
Failure is often a clue to redirect our efforts in a different direction, and to follow a different set of plans. How many times have we learned how not to sell a product, how not to get a new job, or how not to judge a future mate? If a series of failures leads us to open our minds to new knowledge or information, or gives us the willingness to try different behaviors, then we haven’t failed, we’ve learned how to create different results.
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Failures teach us about ourselves
During the ’40s, a young Jewish boy chose to forego academia in order to pursue his dream of becoming another Benny Goodman. Against his parents’ wishes, he began playing in a jazz band.
His musical talents were less than sterling, and soon he realized he was just another musician teetering on the brink of unemployment. Unlike many of his fellow musicians, he was able to manage the income he had, so those periods of unemployment weren’t nearly as devastating for him as they were for others.
His musical colleagues recognized his talent for money management, and soon they had hired him to manage their finances – for a fee. This caused the young man to rethink his career goals, and changed the course of his life.
This failure’s name is Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve Chairman, who has been credited with performing an economic impossibility – sustaining long term economic growth without stimulating inflation. His failure taught him that money, rather than music, was his forté, and we have all benefitted from that epiphany.
There is a saying that to teach a snake its shape, put it in a box. Our failures can be the box that teaches us our shape, and helps us to ascertain how our talents, personality, and learning ability coalesce to form the unique creation we are, and help us to fulfill our destiny and purpose.
Failures can help put things into perspective
“Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.” How many times have we pursued a goal we thought was important, only to find it didn’t bring us the rewards we expected? Have we succeeded or failed in our attempt? Billionaire J. Paul Getty blew through five wives and is alienated from his children. Is he a success or a failure?
Our failures highlight our values, and help us to define what is important in our lives. The man who puts family first will probably not have a skyrocketing career, but can certainly be a successful husband and father. The woman who thrives on a high-powered career requiring 80+ hour weeks will undoubtedly be a financial success, but may have to forego success in the relationship department. One truism in life is that we can have everything we want in life, just not all at the same time. Our failures may help us choose in what area we would like to have success so we can focus our time, effort and energy on that area, and we happily let the rest go to the sidelines.
One of the greatest gifts of failure is the knowledge that failure is never final, unless we choose to give up. Discovering that we can turn our lives around, choose a different path, or embrace a new idea at any age or in any set of circumstances is liberating for the soul, can motivate us to seek the wisdom and experience of others who have had different experiences, and can provide the momentum we need to propel us to successes beyond our imaginings.