Failure Is Your Friend

Often in life we preoccupy ourselves with the intent of avoiding failure at all costs – as if doing so will guarantee our personal growth and success in life. And then I remember a small dead bush.

One summer I hitched up with a small landscaping company. Creating manicured lawns, trimming bushes, and laying truckloads of mulch. I can still feel the relentless heat and sitting on curbs eating lunches out of brown paper bags.

“Hey,” came the voice from the beige pickup truck one day. “Who did the front entrance?”

Looking up from my place on the curb where the six of us sat, I raised my hand.

“Get in here,” said the crew supervisor. His words were not an invitation.

As we drove through the neighborhood of beautiful homes, I wondered what’d I’d done wrong. I’d trimmed, swept, and moved all the trimmings to the edge for pick up.

Pulling to the curb in front of the entrance, he jammed the truck into park.

“Well?” he said. His gaze focused only on the stone entrance landscaped with ground-hugging bushes, tall decorative grasses, and dark, fresh mulch.

My silence was not the right answer. From my point of view, the entrance looked beautiful. I’d never lived in a neighborhood with anything other than a street sign marking its existence.

“What is the deal not finishing?”

Peering through the fog of tension, I could not see what seemed so obvious to my crew supervisor.

Walking me over to the curb he pointed to small bush near the back. From the color you could tell the summer was winning the war. And to be honest, it never occurred to me to pull it and request a replacement from the truck.

“We can’t have you half-doing your job,” he said. “These people pay good money for our work. Fix it and don’t let it happen again.”

Standing there on the curb I felt as small as a handful of the brown mulch surrounding the footings of the bushes in front of me.

As we rode back to the curb where the rest of crew finished their lunches and jockeyed for position for a place around the water cooler, my ego throbbed.

After lunch the crew supervisor sent me hiking back to bring back the bush. The distance, when combined with my bruised ego, seemed punishing. An hour later I returned to the crew, dragging the brown bush behind me.

Decades later I still remember the brown bush and the helplessness of failure I felt. I’d not intentionally failed – quite the opposite. I took great pride in quality of my work that summer. Whether mowing straight and square lines on a lawn or making sure bushes were symmetrically trimmed, I cared about my work.

But the brown bush taught me giving it your all does not guarantee success in life. And in reality, failure is an important lesson to learn. The value of success is only truly realized when compared to the failures balancing out the other end of the spectrum. We all need to fail in order to grow, learn, and develop. Avoiding failure – at all cost – is to rob us of one of the most valuable lessons in life.’

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