Most people examine the embrace of failure from the post-failure perspective. Shit happened, so find the silver lining. But actually, it is as important (if not more so) to focus on making “shit happen”. What Seth Godin recently referred to as the “hard way”:
- “That’s how we learn most of the foundational things that we know, remember and care about–not through exposure, but through effort and failure. That’s why tests aren’t nearly as useful as projects. Just about anything worth learning is worth learning the hard way.” – Seth Godin, “Lessons Learned the Hard Way”
Godin’s post reminded me of Robert Frost’s famous poem “The Road Not Taken”. The road “less travelled by/ And that has made all the difference” (see below).
In this context, the “failure” or downside I am referring to might more accurately be described as embracing “difficulty”. I remember that I took what was reputed to be one of the hardest classes at Harvard my freshman year – Harvey Mansfield’s notorious Gov 10. I got the lowest grade of my college career in it which didn’t help my grade point average, but I I was please to have taken it it nonetheless. For starters, the rigour did force me to learn a whole lot of stuff. Second, Mansfield was a brilliant professor and I learned many things from his lectures (the price of which was enduring the workload he imposed). But the meta lesson for me was learning what the boundary point was for scholastic challenge at this intimidating institution. Once I had survived that ordeal, I had the confidence that I could survive anything in my years ahead.
The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.