You must have long-range goals to keep you from being frustrated by short-term
Theodore Roosevelt said, "The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who
never does anything." Edison spent more than $100,000 to obtain 6000 different fiber
specimens, and only three of them proved satisfactory. Each failure brought him that much
closer to the solution to his problem. His friend Henry Ford was right when he said that
failure was the "opportunity to begin again, more intelligently."
Warren W. Wiersbe, Confident Living, September, 1987, p.
He who never makes a mistake never makes anything.
Unknown. Possibly A. Lincoln.
A football coach gave this advice on how to deal with failures. "When you're about
to be run out of town, get out in front and make it look like you're heading a
Bits & Pieces, April 30, 1992.
Thomas Edison's manufacturing facilities in West Orange, N.J., were heavily damaged by
fire one night in December, 1914. Edison lost almost $1 million worth of equipment and the
record of much of his work. The next morning, walking about the charred embers of his
hopes and dreams, the 67-year-old inventor said: "There is value in disaster. All our
mistakes are burned up. Now we can start anew."
Alan Loy McGinnis, The Power of Optimism (A longer version
of this story is found below).
When Jim Burke became the head of a new products division at Johnson & Johnson, one
of his first projects was the development of a children's chest rub. The product failed
miserably, and Burke expected that he would be fired. When he was called in to see the
chairman of the board, however, he met a surprising reception. "Are you the one who
just cost us all that money?" asked Robert Wood Johnson. "Well I just want to
congratulate you. If you are making mistakes, that means you are taking risks, and we
won't grow unless you take risks." Some years later, when Burke himself became
chairman of J&J, he continued to spread that word.
Reader's Digest, Oct, 1991, p. 62.
Verdi's opera "La Traviata" was a failure when it was first performed. Even
though the singers chosen for the leading roles were the best of the day, everything went
wrong. The tenor had a cold and sang in a hoarse, almost inaudible voice. The soprano who
played the part of the delicate, sickly heroine was one of the stoutest ladies on or off
stage, and very healthy and loud. At the beginning of the Third Act when the doctor
declares that consumption was wasted away the "frail, young lady" and she cannot
live more than a few hours, the audience was thrown into a spasm of laughter, a state very
different from that necessary to appreciate the tragic moment!
Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity,
After the horrible carnage and Confederate retreat at Gettysburg, General Robert E. Lee
wrote this to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy: "We must expect
reverses, even defeats. They are sent to teach us wisdom and prudence, to call forth
greater energies, and to prevent our falling into greater disasters."
MBI's Today In The Word, November, 1989, p.21.
Failure is an event, never a person.
William Brown, Welcome Stress!
Will Rogers' stage specialty used to be rope tricks. One day, on stage, in the middle
of his act, he got tangled in is lariat. Instead of getting upset, he drawled, "A
rope ain't so bad to get tangled up in if it ain't around your neck." The audience
roared. Encouraged by the warm reception, Rogers began adding humorous comments to all his
performances. It was the comments, not the rope tricks, that eventually made him famous.
Between 1962 and 1977 Arthur Pedrick patented 162 inventions. Sounds impressive until
you realize that none of them were taken up commercially. Among his greatest inventions
* a bicycle with amphibious capability.
* an arrangement whereby a car could be driven from the back seat.
* several golf inventions, including a golf ball that could be steered in flight.
The grandest scheme of Pedrick, who described himself as the "One-Man-Think-Tank
Basic Research Laboratories of Sussex," was to irrigate deserts of the world by
sending a constant supply of snowballs from the polar region through a massive network of
Some onlookers thought it was unusual, but few noticed when the pastor wheeled into the
church parking lot in a borrowed pickup truck. But everyone's eyes were upon him when he
backed the truck across the lawn to his study door. Refusing comment or assistance, he
began to empty his office onto the truck bed. He was impassive and systematic: first the
desk drawers, then the files, and last his library of books, which he tossed carelessly
into a heap, many of them flopping askew like slain birds. His task done, the pastor left
the church and, as was later learned, drove some miles to the city dump where he committed
everything to the waiting garbage. It was his way of putting behind him the overwhelming
sense of failure and loss that he had experienced in the ministry. This young, gifted
pastor was determined never to return to the ministry. Indeed, he never did.
K Hughes, Liberating Ministry From The Success Syndrome,
Tyndale, 1988, p. 9.
Notice the difference between what happens when a man says to himself, "I have
failed three times," and what happens when he says, "I am a failure."
Remember Vinko Bogatej? He was a ski-jumper from Yugoslavia who, while competing in the
1970 World Ski-Flying Championship in Obertsdorf, West Germany, fell off the takeoff ramp
and landed on his head. Ever since, the accident has been used to highlight "the
thrill of victory, the agony of defeat" on ABC's "Wide World of Sports."
Bogatej was hospitalized after the spill, but he recovered and now works in a foundry in
Yugoslavia. Doug Wilson, a producer for ABC, interviewed him last year for a special
anniversary edition of the show. "When we told him he's been on the program ever
since 1970," says Wilson, "he couldn't believe it. He appears on
times a year."
Thomas Rogers in N.Y. Times, quoted in Dec, 1980,
The prize for the most useless weapon of all times goes to the Russians. They invented
the "dog mine." The plan was to train the dogs to associate food with the
undersides of tanks, in the hope that they would run hungrily beneath advancing Panzer
divisions. Bombs were then strapped to the dogs' backs, which endangered the dogs to the
point where no insurance company would look at them. Unfortunately, the dogs associated
food solely with Russian tanks. The plan was begun the first day of the Russian
involvement in World War II...and abandoned on day two. The dogs with bombs on their backs
forced an entire Soviet division to retreat.
In 1902, the poetry editor of Atlantic Monthly returned a stack of poems with this
note, "Our magazine has no room for your vigorous verse." The poet was Robert
Frost. In 1905, the University of Bern turned down a doctoral dissertation as
"irrelevant and fanciful." The writer of that paper was Albert Einstein. In 1894
an English teacher noted on a teenager's report card, "A conspicuous lack of
success." The student was Winston Churchill.
Signs of the Times, March 1988, p. 12.
One ballplayer set the major league record for strikeouts with 1316. The same player
set a record for five consecutive strikeouts in a World Series game. The holder of both
records was the great slugger Babe Ruth.
Napoleon Bonaparte graduated 42nd in a class of 58 at military school.
E. Lucaire, Celebrity Trivia.
The great inventor Charles Kettering suggested that we must learn to fail
intelligently. He said, "Once you've failed analyze the problem and find out why,
because each failure is one more step leading up to the cathedral of success. The only
time you don't want to fail is the last time you try." Here are three suggestions for
turning failure into success:
1. honestly face defeat; never fake success.
2. Exploit the failure; don't waste it. Learn all you can from it; every bitter experience
can teach us something.
3. Never use failure as an excuse for not trying again.
You may not be able to reclaim the loss, undo the damage, or reverse the consequences,
but you can make a new start--wiser, more sensitive, renewed by the Holy spirit, and more
determined to do right.
General Mark Clark was one of the great heroes of WWII. He led the Salerno invasion
that Winston Churchill said was "the most daring amphibious operation we have
launched, or which, I think, has ever been launched on a similar scale in war." At
the time Clark was promoted to Lt. General, he was the youngest man of that rank in the
U.S. Army. He graduated from West Point in 1917. At the top of his class? Nope. He was
111th from the top in a class of 139! Even if you never earned a college degree, don't
worry, you're in good company. Irving Berlin, for instance, only had two years of formal
schooling. He never learned how to read music. When he composed his songs, he would hum
the melody and a musical secretary would write down the notes. He became one of the
greatest songwriters the country has ever known.
Bits & Pieces, December 13, 1990.
It is said that Thomas Edison performed 50,000 experiments before he succeeded in
producing a storage battery. We might assume the famous inventor would have had some
serious doubts along the way. But when asked if he ever became discouraged working so long
without results, Edison replied, "Results? Why, I know 50,000 things that won't
Today in the Word, August, 1990.
On New Year's Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played University of California in the Rose Bowl.
In that game a man named Roy Riegels recovered a fumble for California. Somehow, he became
confused and started running 65 yards in the wrong direction. One of his teammates, Benny
Lom, outdistanced him and downed him just before he scored for the opposing team. When
California attempted to punt, Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety which was the
ultimate margin of victory.
That strange play came in the first half, and everyone who was watching the game was
asking the same question: "What will Coach Nibbs Price do with Roy Riegels in the
second half?" The men filed off the field and went into the dressing room. They sat
down on the benches and on the floor, all but Riegels. He put his blanket around his
shoulders, sat down in a corner, put his face in his hands, and cried like a baby. If you
have played football, you know that a coach usually has a great deal to say to his team
during half time. That day Coach Price was quiet. No doubt he was trying to decide what to
do with Riegels. Then the timekeeper came in and announced that there were three minutes
before playing time. Coach Price looked at the team and said simply, "Men the same
team that played the first half will start the second." The players got up and
started out, all but Riegels. He did not budge. the coach looked back and called to him
again; still he didn't move. Coach Price went over to where Riegels sat and said,
"Roy, didn't you hear me? The same team that played the first half will start the
second." Then Roy Riegels looked up and his cheeks were wet with a strong man's
tears. "Coach," he said, "I can't do it to save my life. I've ruined you,
I've ruined the University of California, I've ruined myself. I couldn't face that crowd
in the stadium to save my life." Then Coach Price reached out and put his hand on
Riegel's shoulder and said to him: "Roy, get up and go on back; the game is only half
over." And Roy Riegels went back, and those Tech men will tell you that they have
never seen a man play football as Roy Riegels played that second half.
Haddon W. Robinson, "Christian Medical Society
Thomas Edison invented the microphone, the phonograph, the incandescent light, the
storage battery, talking movies, and more than 1000 other things. December 1914 he had
worked for 10 years on a storage battery. This had greatly strained his finances. This
particular evening spontaneous combustion had broken out in the film room. Within minutes
all the packing compounds, celluloid for records and film, and other flammable goods were
in flames. Fire companies from eight surrounding towns arrived, but the heat was so
intense and the water pressure so low that the attempt to douse the flames was futile.
Everything was destroyed. Edison was 67. With all his assets going up in a whoosh
(although the damage exceeded two million dollars, the buildings were only insured for
$238,000 because they were made of concrete and thought to be fireproof), would his spirit
be broken? The inventor's 24-year old son, Charles, searched frantically for his father.
He finally found him, calmly watching the fire, his face glowing in the reflection, his
white hair blowing in the wind. "My heart ached for him," said Charles. "He
was 67--no longer a young man--and everything was going up in flames. When he saw me, he
shouted, 'Charles, where's your mother?' When I told him I didn't know, he said, 'Find
her. Bring her here. She will never see anything like this as long as she lives.'"
The next morning, Edison looked at the ruins and said, "There is great value in
disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew." Three weeks
after the fire, Edison managed to deliver the first phonograph.
Swindoll, Hand Me Another Brick, Thomas Nelson, 1978, pp.
82-3, and Bits & Pieces, November, 1989, p. 12.
Our success in this venture means nothing less than the opening of the country for the
gospel; our failure, at most, nothing more than the death of two or three deluded
fanatics. Still, even death is not failure. His purposes are accomplished. He uses deaths
as well as lives in the furtherance of His cause. Walter Gowans, 1983, a founder of SIM.
On Dec. 4, 1893, Walter Gowans and Rowland Bingham of Toronto, Canada, and Thomas Kent of
Buffalo, N.Y., landed at Lagos, Nigeria. Their aim was to establish a witness among the 60
million people of what was then commonly known as the Soudan, the area south of the Sahara
between the Niger River and the Nile. Gowans and Kent died in the first few months.
Bingham returned to Canada, formed a council, and went back to Africa in 1900. That
attempt, too, was unsuccessful. In 1901 Bingham sent out a party that succeeded in
establishing the Mission's first base, at Patigi, 500 miles up the Niger River. When these
first SIM pioneers landed in Nigeria, Gowans was 25 years old, Bingham was two weeks away
from his 21st birthday, Kent was 23. "It is the impassioned pleading of a quiet
little Scottish lady that linked my life with the Soudan," wrote Rowland Bingham (a
founder of S.I.M.). "In the quietness of her parlor she told how God had called a
daughter to China, and her eldest boy (Walter Gowans) to the Soudan. "She spread out
before me the vast extent of those thousands of miles and filled in the teeming masses of
people. Ere I closed the interview she had place upon me the burden of the Soudan." A
year and a half later Bingham returned to Canada, alone. Walter and Thomas Kent lay buried
in Nigeria's interior. "I visited Mrs. Gowans to take her the few personal belongings
of her son," he recalled. "She met me with extended hand. We stood there in
silence. "Then she said these words: 'Well, Mr. Bingham, I would rather have had
Walter go out to the Soudan and die there, all alone, than have him home today, disobeying
Statistics and Stuff
"One of the reasons why mature people stop growing and learning," says John
Gardner, "is that they become less and less willing to risk failure."
Tim Hansel, Eating Problems for Breakfast, Word
Publishing,1988, p. 32.
During 1978 during the fireman's strike in England, the British army took over
emergency firefighting. On January 14 they were called out by an elderly lady in South
London to retrieve her cat. They arrived with impressive haste, very cleverly and
carefully rescued the cat, and started to drive away. But the lady was so grateful she
invited the squad of heroes in for tea. Driving off later with fond farewells and warm
waving of arms, they ran over the cat and killed it.
Life is a leaf of paper white
Whereon each one of us may write
His word or two, and then comes night.
Greatly begin! though thou have time
But for a line, be that sublime--
Not failure, but low aim, is crime.
James Russell Lowell.