“If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
— And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
— Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken
— And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools”
— Rudyard Kipling
When I was six, I gashed my head pretty good by crashing into a dresser while chasing my brother. It took stitches to close it and I still bear the scar. At thirteen, I wrecked on my bike while showing off for a pretty red headed neighbor girl named Patti. I got a pretty impressive scar on my knee from that little adventure as well. The scars are part of the pains of growing up. Mine are neither better nor worse than any other kid in my town.
As an adult I’ve gotten scars as well— failure scars. You can’t see them but they are there just the same. Like the one I got at 52 from being laid off for the first time. Or the one I bear from a divorce. Or even the one I gave myself from a couple of years of serious alcoholic drinking as a result of the first two misadventures. They were my experiences, certainly no better or worse than the other folks I know. They are unique to me.
I am certain you have them as well.
The triumph and failure that Kipling wrote about is not news to us, all of us have faced it at one time or other in our lives. Our failures shape us. Sometimes they inspire us—sometimes they destroy us. But they always change us.
Rob Kaplan, when he taught at Harvard, used to encourage his students to pay particular attention to their “Failure Story”. Instead of looking back on it with shame and dismay, he taught that facing and valuing the experience reveals the lessons learned by man or woman who emerge from the other side. Mistakes and failure exercises our character.
I find this to be true. In order to really get to know who you are, you need to become familiar (and comfortable) with what you have learned from the failures and disasters you’ve lived through.
For example, Steve Jobs had to endure the humiliation of being rifted form the company he founded. The humiliation made worse, whether he would admit it or not, because it was justified. The thing is, Apple’s subsequent success would not have been possible without the knowledge and insights that came from his experience at Pixar.
That’s the power of failure. If you can get past your shame and knee-jerk self flagellation, the lessons it teaches are gifts of pure gold.
If you’re lucky, you might even get to the point where you can add them to your story and laugh about them.
From: “No Brag – Just Fact: The Subtle Art of Self Marketing” –Peter K. Young