Wednesday, October 23, 2013

President's Message: Out Of Failure Comes Success

By Susan Johnson-Velez

“Our goal over the next four years is to make sure your son fails at something.” So began the speech by the president of my son’s high school at the freshmen parents’ meeting four years ago. “What?!” thought I and no doubt the majority of the parents in the room. But these are our precious sons, the ones whose self-esteems we have carefully constructed and cultivated, and painstakingly nurtured and protected. We don’t want them to fail.

From a very early age, most of us are taught how to be winners … how to succeed. All too often these lessons are further distorted with the false notion that everyone is a winner. Truth is, contrary to popular wisdom and the prevailing emotions that day, we should all welcome, even embrace, failure. Most of us are not taught, let alone encouraged, to fail. Why is failure considered so bad? Simply put, it doesn’t feel good, and it’s often associated with weakness. Most of us don’t wake up in the morning hoping that the day will bring failure. But maybe we should. Despite the negative connotation, failures actually give birth to greater life experiences and the chance to become bolder, more creative, and more courageous.

Basketball icon Michael Jordan admits to missing more than 9,000 shots, losing almost 300 games, and missing the game-winning shot 26 times during his career. But he credits those failures as the reason for his success. Thomas Edison is famously said to have failed with a thousand filaments before finally hitting on the right material for the incandescent light bulb. Without his persistence, I might very well be writing this article by very dim candlelight. To be certain, I am very thankful for the fruit of his failures.  

In the interest of full disclosure, I freely admit that I have failed many times. I have failed as a friend and as a parent. As a college student, I failed to make the required grade in many of the science and math classes that made up the curriculum for my pre-med track.  However, that failure allowed me to be honest with myself about where my true academic passions lay, to let go of my parents’ dreams for me, and to hone in on my own dreams for myself. And yes, as a lawyer here in Tampa, I failed in my first attempt at seeking election to the Hillsborough County Bar Association Board of Directors.  Indeed, these failures have led me to greater life experiences and have made me bolder, more creative, and more courageous.

All of the above experiences, along with many others, culminated in my becoming more open-minded, persistent, and audacious. In retrospect, that opening line at the freshmen parents’ meeting makes perfect sense. Why wouldn’t I want my son to begin the journey toward audacity, and the sooner the better? This time of year, and especially this month, as we reflect on things that we are thankful for, we often focus on our successes. Perhaps we should consider instead our failures and be thankful for them because in the end they may very well have led to our greatest successes.