Thursday, February 10, 2011

Failure is ALWAYS an option.

If you've ever watched an episode of MythBusters, odds are pretty good that you've heard the guys say that "Failure is always an option."  When it comes to scientific study, that's a hard and fast rule.  After all, the "Scientific Method" we all learned in school breaks down as:

  • Observation
  • Question
  • Hypothesis
  • Experiment
  • Conclusion
Since the conclusion is all about discovering if the hypothesis was correct or not, "failure" constitutes a result and therefore IS an option.  And sometimes, it's the best option to learn from.  So, if failure is a great learning tool in science, why shouldn't it also be one in life?  The simple answer is that it is.

I'm going to clue all of you in on something you probably already know but never want to admit.  We're ALL human ... well, all of us except that one guy who keeps telling me "Na-nu, na-nu" and tries to shake hands with the Spock sign.  Obviously HE isn't from around here.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, we're all human.  That means we're all bound to make mistakes.  Hell, many of the world's rarest and most valuable gems are inherently flawed.  It's part of what makes them unique.  It's the same way with people.  We're flawed, but it's those flaws that help to define us ... not just in the mistakes we make, but in the ways we deal with them.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away (alright, it was actually in Jacksonville, FL and about more than six years ago) I was a manager at a local comic book shop.  I did everything I could to keep up with everything going on in the industry, with what books people would want, with the special orders from customers, and with everything else that would keep people coming back.  But no matter how hard I tried not to, I'd screw up.  The store would occasionally sell out of a book too soon, or miss a customer's order, or make some other random boneheaded mistake. But you know what? I'm glad I did.  See, one thing I've always prided myself on is when i screwed up, I did two important things.  First, I owned up to it.  If I missed a customer's order, I'd immediately call them up or talk to them in the store,  and offer up a mea culpa (or as the kiddies these days say, "My bad").  Along with an explanation on how I screwed up, I followed quickly by step two explaining how I was going to try and fix it.  By admitting fault, working to rectify it, and also keeping the customer in the loop, most of the time they stayed happy.   The customers knew they were important.  It also built a strong level of trust.  They knew that if I screwed something up, I'd be the first to admit it and I'd already be working to make it right.  On the other hand, when those random events came up that were completely out of my control, the customers believed me when I said so.  They trusted me enough to know that I wasn't trying to make an excuse.  And it's all because I would always own up to my mistakes.

You see, the best thing about making mistakes is what you take away from them.  Sometimes, things will happen that are outside of your control.  In those instances, you learn about ways you could shore up some of your weaknesses to be better prepared for the next time something unexpected pops up.  More often, though, you'll screw up through no fault of anyone but yourself.  Maybe you tried to take on more than you you were capable of.  Maybe you didn't prioritize your work well enough.  Maybe something slipped by you that you should have paid more attention to.  Regardless of what it is, once it's done, it's done. The trick is to fix what you can, to accept it, to learn, and to ultimately move forward.  The key here is owning the mistake instead of letting it own you.

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