I see the finished product or result of a world class artist, musician, or athlete, and I try to understand how they became so talented. We see the grace and beauty of the movements, combined with the power and strength. We can see the vision of creation, moving pieces of art or music that soothe the soul. We watch an actor or actress seamlessly shift into different characters on the screen and stage. What did they do to achieve these levels of greatness?
One element that those who represent the pinnacle of their profession is the countless hours of practice spent. We may witness their work, and we indirectly see the work they put into it. We see the culmination of all their efforts. Most importantly, we see the lessons they learned from failures.
Everyone has experienced failures and setbacks. The failures of life can be frequent, and sometimes spectacular. How many artists started work on a canvas, only to scrub the paint away, or discard their less than ideal product? The baseball player may have struggled hitting the ball at first, but over time improved through countless hours of practice. I remember building a little rocket as a child. It probably wasn’t built well, but it was the fruit of my labor and I was proud. I ended up ruining it by not understanding the proper procedure for using a spray paint can. Thin, even coats, not saturating slowly at full blast. Lesson learned.
Failure will happen. Those who say they never have failed, never made an ambitious or daring decision. But most likely they’re just being dishonest. We must not fear failure, nor must we mark it as a sign of a personal failing. You need to plan for success and to minimize chances of failure, but most importantly, you need to learn the lesson. Planning and learning all the necessary concepts are critical, but even then, sometimes things just don’t work out. Do you quit, or do you study and learn, and then grow from the experience?
I often think of the Apollo 1 fire as a learning example. After the successes or the Mercury and Gemini missions, NASA was ready for the next step. The Apollo missions would be the ones to get to the moon, land, and return the astronauts safely. Coming off Gemini with tremendous momentum, NASA was aggressively pushing for the development of the Apollo space craft. Administrators were making plans, and applying pressure for the flight to launch.
Initially, the spacecraft was plagued with design flaws and many corrections were needed. Changes to the design, and continuous reworking enabled a situation where the craft caught fire, killing the three astronauts in 1967 (Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Edward White). Investigations ensued, and the spacecraft was redesigned to address the lessons learned. The tragic loss of the astronauts lingers to this day. The Apollo missions would resume, and NASA would reach the goal of landing on the moon.
What would have happened if NASA decided to continue with the flawed design? Maybe things would have worked out. The chances that more astronauts would have been lost to space due to incessant failures and design flaws would have been very high. How many astronauts would have been lost in space? Would NASA have persevered and still successfully land on the moon, or would the drive withered away? Designers and engineers learned the lessons from the fire. In the end, the flights to the moon represent the pinnacle of modern engineering and science, and will forever be one of the crowning symbols of human achievement.
Our lives are not nearly as bold and ambitious as launching atop a massive rocket into orbit. Any failure, whether minor or spectacular, are lessons to be learned. Even in the darkest of times, remain positive and gain insight and grow. While it’s never a fun experience to go through, and we certainly do not want to enter something looking to fail, but it’ll happen. Above all, do not fear it. Embrace the learning opportunity, and be better for it.
Roll up your sleeves and get to work. Learn the lessons, even in the most turbulent times. Grow and develop, and you will one day be the one people look to and be inspired by your actions and talents.
*Dedicated to the memory of Gus Grissom (1926 – 1967), Roger Chaffee (1935 – 1967), and Edward White (1930 – 1967)