Thomas Edison is ranked among the greatest inventors of all time, and yet he was acquainted with failure a lot more than most of us. When he was developing the storage battery he conducted over 9 000 experiments without success.
When his close friend, Walter Malory commented on the lack of results, Edison retorted: “Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousands of things that won’t work!”
Edison clearly regarded the false starts that he had as results. This was a positive attitude which many of us lack. Under circumstances like these Edison found himself in, it is tempting to think that one has failed to get results.
Naturally most people would throw up their arms in surrender way before the 900th false start.
Failure should not put a block in the way to success. Rather it should be regarded as a stepping stone to our destination. Each time Edison was met with a failure he learnt something. Equipped with the new knowledge, he modified his experiment and tried again.
Fallen reggae icon, Peter Tosh, sang about his trying to fly like a bird, which he obviously could not. He failed numerous times but he had this advice: “And I try, I said I try; I try, I really try, try, try! But I got to pick myself up, dust myself up, start all over, again.”
It is such positive attitudes that propel people to great exploits. There is not a single person who has achieved great things, having not travelled on a road riddled with failure. Often it is people who surround us that cause us to give up. Even if they do not say anything, their mere presence intimidates us because we imagine that we cannot stand their reactions in the event that we fail a number of times.
In rare cases, it is people surrounding us that provide the inspiration for us to keep going. One hundred and thirty something years ago, a German national by the name of Karl Benz incorporated an internal combustion engine into a wagon (prior to that wagons were drawn by horses) to make the first self propelled car. Because Benz was such a perfectionist, his invention never left the garage where it had been assembled. Until, that is, his wife, Bertha Benz, pulled it out without her husband’s knowledge one morning. With her two sons, Eugen and Richard, on board, Bertha undertook the first ever long drive in history, from Mannheim, where she lived to Pforzheim, her mother’s place, over 80 kilometres away.
Along the way she had a few technical failures, but she did not let them stop her test drive. A dislodged pipe was fixed with her hairpin and failed brakes promped her to visit a cobbler (shoe-maker), who fashioned the first ever brake shoes in history for her. When these were fitted to the car, they functioned perfectly and the journey continued.
Our journey through life is strewn with hitches of all shapes and sizes but we should never allow them to halt our progress. Failure should never be taken as something negative and debilitating. If anybody has never failed in life, they have missed out on a chance to learn. It is only those who have never tried anything that have a “clean record” insofar as failure is concerned.
I have studied great men and women in history and have been convinced that there is a common theme that runs through their lives—failure. But these people have managed their failure so well that it pales into insignificance campared to what they have achieved. Moses, for example, was not an eloquent speaker and required Aaron, his brother, to speak for him before Pharaoh.
Albert Einstein, whose intellectual prowess baffled scientists that, when he died, they extracted his brain and preserved it for future studies, was once denied entry to a Polytechnic after failing entrance examinations. He only made it a year later when he retook the entrance examinations and passed them.
In 1900, Einstein was denied a teaching post at the Polytechnic after achieving only modest results in his final examinations.
But these men, and many others, went on to become the great people we know today. We should never despise failure. It is not our falling but our rising from the fall that should define us. He is truly a failure who does not rise from his fall.
Do a proper and honest search within your life and take stock of the moments that you failed. Did you learn anything from them?