Wednesday, May 13, 2009

There's no success like failure...

...and failure's no success at all! So says Bob Dylan in a great song - 'Love Minus Zero/No Limit'. I used this quote in my last assembly (my deputy principal was scared I was going to sing it!). Well actually that's not strictly true. I used the first part - there's no success like failure - because Dylan rather blurs the message with the completed thought and it didn't suit my purpose at assembly. Which was to tell my students that failure is good for them!

I've certainly learnt more about myself from failing things (and boy have I failed things) than I have from my successes. I failed my drivers' licence first up and was thrilled beyond words when my smarter younger brother later failed his too. I bring that up a lot! I failed the school certificate examination and in those days (the 1970s) that meant repeating the year. During that repeat year I learnt about self-discipline and I matured a lot. I also met a guy who has been a constant friend throughout the years. I had a 'seat-of-my-pants' year in the sixth form and then I failed the university bursary examination as well two years later.

The good thing was that all of these failures were not fatal. I survived and by dogged perseverance I made my way to university with a healthy regard for my capabilities. During my assembly I related the story about Thomas Edison. When he was trying to develop the light bulb, he had over 5,000 failures. He was asked why he kept wasting his time. He said, "I have not failed 5,000 times. I have discovered 5,000 ways that won't work. If I persevere, I will come to the end of ways that won't work and discover the one that will."

Isn't that great? I'm in awe of this. Where would we be if he'd not persevered? I'm also in awe from a different perspective. That Edison could visualise where he wanted to get to and then try try try various methods to get there is beyond my own understanding. It's a bit like whoever stood on a beach and thought - "If I mix this sand with some other things I bet I could come up with glass!" This amazes me! Thank goodness we're not all the same.

Did the message to my students get through? Maybe I planted a seed for a few that failure is actually not to be feared, indeed it should be embraced. Maybe they'll think about Edison and the light bulb after the next failure. That would make me happy.

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