How failure can be useful

August 10, 2011

First, an apology. I haven’t blogged for the last couple of months, except for T-SQL Tuesday events. I make myself blog for these, for two reasons. One is the simple fact that I like the concept – I like the idea of getting a blogging assignment, and the fact that it’s a monthly event. I’m not saying that I want to sign up for every blogging meme that goes around, but I’m convinced it’s a good thing to write (publicly) about something each month, particularly as a prompt to write about something that isn’t my own idea.


The other reason is that I haven’t missed one yet, and I feel that missing a month would be akin to failure.

But that’s not the kind of failure that this month’s theme is about. Nor is the kind of failure that you get when you try something (like one of the Microsoft exams) and don’t quite get the mark you wanted (like a “pass”). I don’t count this as failure, assuming you are allowed to sit the thing another time. I’m a firm believer that you should treat these kind of exams as a learning experience in themselves, and see how you go without study. Assuming you fail, you get a piece of paper explaining the areas where you should study, and you probably know what those areas are yourself, as you’ve had questions presented to you that gave you that feeling that we all know. The kind of feeling that tells you that you don’t actually know what you’re doing, and that you’re going to fail. We do all know that feeling. We’ve all had it plenty of times before, and will have it again. We feel it when we have a real failure, when we have that realisation that we’ve made a mistake, and we will all experience many times more. In an exam though, particularly one like a Microsoft exam where the impact of a ‘fail’ is remarkably small, the feeling is safe. Worst case, you can try the exam again in the future, at which point you’ll probably pass easily enough. And if I’m your boss, I seriously don’t mind at all.

Today, I’m a consultant who runs a successful company called LobsterPot Solutions. I hold myself to high standards, and failure is still something which causes stress. I tell myself that failure is something to learn from, but nevertheless, I find myself rehearsing prior events, practicing for next time I have to deal with that moment, as if I’ll one day have a second shot. I remember times I’ve accidentally hurt the people I love, and I beat myself up about it. I remember the times I’ve let down clients, and beat myself up about it. I remember the times I’ve let down God, and I really beat myself up about it.

Except that all these people understand that I’m human, and understand forgiveness. They also know that it’s never my intention to fail, and that from year to year, I fail less often (I hope – man, I really do hope).

Failure has to be part of growth. And we do get second shots. The better you are, the more second shots you get. If you fail to use the second shots, then that’s a much bigger problem. Whenever we fail, we need to put it behind us and move on. It’s not a sin to fail, but if you make a habit of failure, then that’s something you need to stop.

As for the T-SQL Tuesday theme – mentioning a time that I did something which I’d thought was going to be clever, and it really wasn’t…

I remember the time I accidentally deleted all the timesheets for the company I was working for. That was lousy. I felt all those feelings that I described earlier. I’d made a copy of a table and then deleted the data in the copy. The plan was to get the copy populated with a handful of items, and then use this as a basis for bulk entry – it seemed like a smart idea. Unfortunately it was a linked table, and the copy pointed at the same location as the original. Everything disappeared. The most recent backup available still meant that some timesheet data was lost, and everyone had to re-enter a lot of data. There were useful lessons to be learned that day, and my colleagues helped make sure I learned plenty.

I haven’t done that again.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Jason

    Very Well Said!  Thanks, I’ve had a couple of those experiences myself.

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