This morning as I walked out onto the front porch I couldn’t help but notice that the sky and the light around me was an orange color. The trees were orange the leaves were orange and all the sky and air around was orange. It was truly a beautiful and unique scene. It did not last long but I think I will remember this for a long time. It made me feel good and wondrous. I had a rough day yesterday and I needed something this morning to make me feel good.
My thought today is about failure. First I will give you the definition as it appears in a dictionary. Failure is a noun. It is the condition or fact of not achieving the desired end or ends. It is also described as the condition or fact of being insufficient or falling short. In the world of words this definition is simple and direct.
I’m not quite sure when the word “failure” worked its way into my vocabulary or presented itself in my world. I’m pretty sure it began when I was a small child and attended school. There is always the worry of my parents and myself that I would fail a class. And by failing a class I would not go on from the first grade to the second grade and therefore the term that “you are a failure” first rears its ugly head. Even at that early age I had to worry about making the team. I do not want to fail to make the Little League baseball team. As time went on I would worry about failing to make it into middle school, then high school and eventually college. It was during those years that I began to worry about being popular. And of course it was terrible if I was not invited to a certain party or I did not find a date for the prom. During those teen years the looming thought of being a failure probably affected my choices in life.
It was also during that time that I found out that a failure did not mean the end of the earth. It usually gave me the opportunity to try again. Sometimes I did try again and again and again. The thought of failing at something no longer loomed as large and horrible. That does not mean that the fear of failure went away.
One of the looming failures that I had to face happened while I was in the U.S. Army. I started out as a second lieutenant in the infantry and of course wanted to become a first lieutenant in the infantry. It was during the first year after being made second lieutenant that I failed an assignment and was quickly reassigned to another unit. I think that was one of the first times as a grown adult that I cried in front of someone else. I thought it was devastating and I would never recover from it. Then there was the feeling of failure as a leader when I went to Vietnam. I felt that I failed each time that one of my men were injured or killed. I played the scenario over and over in my mind on what I could do differently that would’ve changed the outcome of the event. Even though I learned something each time that I went into battle and each time that someone was either injured or killed. And the fact that I returned home in one piece and many others did not also made me feel like a failure. As strange as it may sound I thought that I could go to war and fight the battles and come home with the feeling of” Mission accomplished”.
It was also during that time that I married my first wife. I had met her soon after becoming a second lieutenant and she was a private. When I announced my engagement to her I was quickly ushered into the Colonel’s office and told that officers do not marry enlisted people. Even though I was in the Army I defied that order. A week after that meeting I got my orders to go to Vietnam. The Col. had ordered all my fellow officers and their enlisted people not to go to the wedding. And so my first wedding ceremony was a failure. There was this large church that ended up being empty except for the immediate family members. Not one uniform person, even if they were out of uniform, showed up at the ceremony.
It was during my tour in Vietnam that I received the information that my first wife was in love with another man. Upon returning from Vietnam I tried to change the situation but I failed. I felt like a failure as a man and a husband. But the worst feeling of being a failure was as a father. I was not going to be present all the time as my son grew up. Even though this was a very dark time in my life I did not let what I believed was a failure stop me from going on. So I moved to a new state and began a new career. I knew that after the incident of not following the Col.’s order about marrying my first wife, my career in the Army would be a failure.
In the following decades I worked for the Los Angeles police department. I experienced some great times and some failures. My inability to always follow orders and my beginning problems with PTSD made it very hard for me to promote up the ranks. It was also during this time that I married my second wife. And after many years the marriage failed. I would say mostly because of me. As I failed to simulate myself into a social world, I found myself being more of a loner and definitely drinking more. When I separated and was divorced, I felt again as a failure. A failure as a man, a husband and a father. Once again I would not always be there as my sons grew up. But also once again I looked at the excitement of a new adventure and a new life. I would like to believe that each time I failed I learned something. One of the biggest things that I learned is that life goes on and I would still laugh and love.
It seems like each time that I failed I was able to pick myself up and head forward. Just because I had some failures did not mean that I did not feel proud and that I did not want to try things again. I kept going at my job and eventually made the rank of detective. I also went back to college and got my bachelor degree from Pepperdine University. I do not think there’s anything more reassuring than some sort of degree or acknowledgment that you were successful.
Even though I thought I would never marry again, I met the right person and jumped off into wedded bliss. I feel that this time I have been successful and happy. It does not mean that I still don’t occasionally think about failing. But I know I control my destiny. If I am to continue experiencing a happy and successful marriage I need to open up a little more. Other than my wife I am still a loner.
What brought all this talk about failure? I have been working on drilling a hand drilled well. I had already tried and failed to get the well working in two locations. Each time as I started the project the excitement of completing the task made me work hard. After two failures I tried again yesterday. Each time that I worked on the well I have changed or reinvented some portion of the task with the hope that this time that would work. Well, yesterday I only got about 15 feet down and I ran into a rock. In my mind it was a very big rock. And after hours of pecking away at it I once again had to stop drilling the well and label that site as a failure. Surprisingly, it did not take long before I decided to try again at a new location. Each time that I failed at drilling the well I quickly get excited about trying it again.
For some people experiencing a failure will make them more resolved to be successful and complete the task. I think that almost everyone can relate to experiencing a failure and then going on to achieve success. The failures that make you feel low and depressed are not the final word. After a failure you get to experience the excitement of trying it again. Just like when you first try the task, you are excited and driven.
I do not know how many well holes I will have to dig to finally get one deep enough to produce water for my pond. And after that happens I will celebrate the success and go on to another task. I imagine in the next task I will once again, as it has been defined, experience a failure. But I think each failure can eventually lead to a great feeling of accomplishment and pride when I will finally succeed.