Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 505(290) Benefits of Failure

Welcome to Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

The Titanic - a failure writ large. That's the way I've always heard it. Then I heard this guy talking about what an important success it was. That caught my attention. He said that because of the massive failure of the Titanic all sorts of changes were made to the construction, the equipping and the rules and regulations governing passenger ships. The changes made sailing much more safer for all of us. Without such a massive failure changes would not have been demanded and accepted. All that sailed later benefited. We learn from our failures.

We like to preach the benefits of success. We like to talk of failure as being unacceptable. We dream of perfection. "Winning isn't everything it is the only thing", Vince Lombardi's famous quote.  Many of our schools have rejected the idea of "failure" as a grade to students who fail to learn the subject matter.

When I was a kid in a class of 27 students we had three who had failed multiple grades. They were 16 when they left eighth grade. Not because they passed the grade but they could legally quit school at that age. Holding them back did not seem to be very effective. There failure didn't lead to better learning for them but it was a stick hanging over all of our heads. It did encourage the rest of us.

The same held true in college. When grades were posted on classroom doors students were regularly seen walking away with head down. Within hours they would be packing there stuff and headed home. I know that the risk of failure was a major encouragement to me in studying just a bit harder - like - a lot harder.

This was before there was such a thing as grade inflation or teacher evaluations by the students. I'm not sure students are failed at colleges today. I recall taking a college class twenty years ago or so and the professor gave us the reading assignments the first day of class. One student raised their hand and voiced a complaint. I marveled at such an act. As an undergrad we never spoke to our professors except when asked.

Marriage is another institution that sees its share of failure. I have witnessed my share of divorces though I have never actually had the experience. (knock on wood.) I can not think of one divorce that I have witnessed that has not ended in a better life for each partner. I'm sure this is not always the case but that has been what happened to all that I've been close to personally. It seems like the failure led to a better understanding of each and of what they wanted in a partner. Some people never seem to learn the lesson and repeat one failed marriage after another but I would think that would be the exception. This could be another example of the benefits of failure.

My car is another reminder. The cars they build now-a-days seem so much better that the ones of my youth. I use to have flat tire after flat tire. Not so today. They have mastered the construction of durable and strong tires. The motors seem to run forever.Things that use to go wrong have been fixed or done away with. My mechanic always buys used cars and he says,  "I always looks for high milage cars. The engines they make today will easily run two to three hundred thousand miles". Years of failed products have led to very successful improvements.

Thomas Edison and his invention of the light bulb is another reminder of the success of failure. It is claimed that he had 10 thousand failures on his way to discovering the incandescent light bulb. He learned from his failures. When matched with his persistence he found success in the end.

It always seemed to me that children learn so much from failure. Trying to ride a bicycle. Riding a pony. Throwing or hitting a baseball. Shooting a basket. These things you can't learn from a talk or a book. They all require that one tries and tries again. We have to stand to the side and let failure happen and then let them experience the effort and the  correcting that needs to be done. Of course we can help a bit but we have to let them experience failure at some level. Lots of times I think we help to much.

When my daughter was very young she would say, "Dad, what can I do?" My usual reply; not always, but most of the time was, "Well, you could mill-dew." She always came back with, "Dad. No. I don't know what to do. What can I do?" Once again my response was usually, "You can do lots of stuff." Then I would run down a nonsensical list: you can; roll on the floor, walk, go outside, stay inside, sit down, stand up, go to bed, read a book, play with a toy, close your eyes, sing a song, whatever. You make up your own mind".

Perhaps I was being a bad dad but I have always thought kids and adults should learn to think for themselves and make themselves a life. Failing to give meaning to one's life is an eternal problem. We each have to learn to give meaning to our life and that lesson needs to start in childhood. All too often it is something we do not teach our children. Perhaps those are the same people who later have difficulty with retirement.

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