Failure

Without a doubt, failure is our very best teacher.  I am not sure if I like this statement, but I am pretty certain about the truth of it.

As a 16-year-old, I spent some time working for a rancher during haying season.  One of the first things he asked me to do was to fill the tractor up with fuel. I remember pulling the tractor up to the fuel pump, shutting down the engine, and getting ready to fill up the tank.  There was just one problem, I could not figure out where the fuel tank was.  After 15 minutes of searching, I noticed a screw cap at the very front of the engine compartment. So I opened it up and began filling the tractor up with diesel fuel.

There was just one problem: I was filling up the radiator.

Without going into a whole lot of details, the radiator holds fluid to cool the engine; diesel fuel does not belong in the radiator.

It did not take long for the rancher to notice the mistake I was making.  It would be an understatement to say that he was upset with me.

We ended up draining the radiator, refilling it with coolant and then he showed me where the fuel tank was.

Then he said something remarkable, “Well I guess you won’t make that mistake again.”

I couldn’t believe it.  He had every right to fire me, but he didn’t.

In the years since I have become convinced that one of the most important things we can do as parents, leaders, pastors, or employers is to create an environment where failures are not final.  It is failure that leads to wisdom.  It is failure in my life that creates space for grace when working with others.

I don’t like failure, especially when I fail publicly.  But, without a doubt, failure has been my very best teacher.

How are you embracing failure?

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3 Comments

Filed under being wrong, mistakes, Uncategorized

3 responses to “Failure

  1. I’ve been blogging on this topic for 5 years now. Your story reminds me of one of my favourites…

    In the early years of IBM, an executive made a drastic error in judgement that cost the company $30,000. IBM president Thomas J. Watson asked to see the guilty party who was sure he was going to be fired. In their meeting, Watson grilled the employee on the mistake, how it had happened, how it could have been avoided. The employee thought it to be a form of slow torture. Finally, he asked the president ‘why don’t you cut to the chaste and simply fire me?’ Watson replied, “Fire you?! Are you crazy? We’ve just spent $30,000 educating you!”

  2. Here’s another gem along the same lines…

    Young man to wise senior executive: “I would like to know what have been the keys to your success.”

    Executive: “I can sum it up in two words – Good Decisions.”

    Young man: “I thank you immensely for that advice sir, but how does one come to know which are good decisions?”

    Executive: “One word, young man – Experience.”

    Young Man: “That’s all well and good, but how does one get experience?”

    Executive: “Two words – Bad decisions.”

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