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Failing Forward: Blown Lightbulbs and the Lessons Therein

Failing Forward: Blown Lightbulbs and the Lessons ThereinThe nemesis of my sophomore year of college was a class called Circuits 101. Known as a “weeder class”, one designed to instill frustration and confusion in aspiring engineering students, the possibilities of passing or failing were extreme.  Each test consisted of only two questions, yielding only 3 possible test scores:  0, 50, or 100.

I studied.  I listened.  I feverishly took every note imaginable.  I cried.  I prayed.  I studied some more.  I did everything humanly possible to pass the class that fall semester.  But, ultimately, I failed the class.  For first time in my entire academic career, my report card carried the letter “F”.  And I admit, that it felt like more than a class grade…I felt like a complete failure with a bold “F” plastered to my forehead.  I began to question my abilities to make it through engineering school.  Was I cut out for this stuff?  Was I smart enough to handle classes like this?  Was the dream I carried since the age of 12 of being an electrical engineer on the brink of disappearing? 

Failure…and the fear of failure.  Every human being on the planet has faced the fear of failure at some point in life.  And each one of us has failed at something.  When babies are learning to walk, they stumble. They fall.  But they teeter back up again to try again.  Ultimately, they reach the day when they teeter and totter across the room to the eager arms and excited praise of a loving parent. What would happen if when they fell, they stayed down, refusing to stand back up again and try again?  How much life would they miss by staying glued to the ground forever afraid of trying to walk again?!

Ridiculous, right?  Allow me to suggest that it is also ridiculous to see how many of us have given up on a dream of some kind because we failed at our first attempt.  Here are a few suggestions for what to do when facing failure of some kind.

  1. Put it into perspective.  It isn’t the end of the world. You are not forever doomed.  Experiencing a failure does NOT make you a failure.  Do not let intimidation rule.  Replace despair with determination and be willing to try again.
  2. Learn from it.  Some of the greatest lessons in life come from times when we do not at first succeed.  Look for the lessons that lie in the rich soil of your struggle.  What would you do differently if you had the opportunity to do it all over again?  What did you learn from this experience that you can apply to others?
  3. Ask for another’s opinion. Seek the perspective of a valued coach or mentor.  Ask them what they see in the situation.  Request advice on what you might do differently and listen with open mind and open heart.
  4. Stand back up and try again.  Regroup.  Revisit your plans. Realign your resources.   And recognize that the cost of refusing to get back up is far higher than the cost of trying again.
  5. Offer a helping hand.  That’s right.  Help someone else get back up on their feet.   Use what you’ve learned from your own experience to support someone else through theirs.

Failing that first electrical engineering class definitely sent shock waves through my system.  But I mustered the courage and determination to to take it again.   I found myself listening to the exact same lectures one more time, and the concepts that previously eluded my understanding finally clicked.   My score that second time through was almost perfect, setting the stage for the rest of my EE courses.

But the tenacity of this electrical engineer pales when compared to an earlier scientist who also dabbled with electricity.  Thomas Edison dreamed of creating a lightbulb.  It only took Edison a few thousand tries to get it right.

Let Edison inspire you today….Don’ be afraid to blow a few lightbulbs on your way to success!


To your tbl success,