Dale’s Rules for Life – Learning from Failure

I have these rules… So far, we’ve covered twenty of them. The twenty-first rule may seem a tad fatalistic. Perhaps lacking faith and a bit pessimistic. The rule, you see, assumes failure. It expects plans to not always succeed. But that dour outlook is not the rule itself but simply a recognition that things don’t always go according to plan. Failure is always a possibility. The rule goes something like this – failure is only a failure if I fail to learn something.

You could call this the Thomas Edison rule. The story goes that Edison was working on discovering a new kind of storage battery. Strewn across his workbench was thousands of failed attempts. Seeing those failures, a lab assistant said something to the effect of “what a waste of time and energy.” Edison responded with something like, “Not so, I now know thousands of things that won’t work.” And yet with all those failures, we count Edison as a brilliant inventor and businessman.

Or you could call it the Babe Ruth rule. The famous slugger held Baseball’s home run record until Hank Aaron passed him in 1973. But while Ruth hit a monumental 714 home runs in his lifetime, he failed more than he succeeded with a batting average of .342 (which means he only managed a hit roughly one in three at-bats) with 1330 lifetime strikeouts. The mighty Babe Ruth struck out nearly twice as often as swatted a home run.

Failure is simply part of life or, for Babe Ruth, part of the game. The question is what we do with it.  Failure is not the end of the story unless we make it so. What I’ve learned is to take an honest look at what went wrong, makes some adjustments for the next time a similar situation comes up.

One time, early in my computer career, we were meeting with a possible client. Desiring to demonstrate my skill with a particularly hard to use a piece of backup software, I ran a small test. I backed up an inconsequential folder, deleted it, and restored it to its original location – and failed miserably. The restoration (for reasons I still don’t understand) overwrote a vital folder. This essentially “bricked” the server. Nobody could log in. Utter and complete failure. (We did manage to fix it, but they didn’t hire us as their computer folks). The lesson from that failure is to restore to a safe place and manually move the folders to their verified and intended target.

As you can imagine, this rule applies to everything. To work, home, hobbies, special things, everyday things, church, and following Jesus. This also means it is sometimes incumbent on us to let others fail and to encouragingly, humbly, and with a large dose of grace help them see the lessons in their failure. Not in a “how stupid” kind of way, but a way that encourages learning, self-examination, and discovery.

So, as strange as this may seem, I give myself and you the permission to fail. Permission to make mistakes, to have accidents, to do or say the unwise – but I also give myself and you the expectation of learning and growing from that failure, mistake, accident, action, or words.

Dale Heinold
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