failureIt was growing late. A major campus event was set to begin in a matter of hours, and technical difficulties had dozens of university employees scrambling to ensure the proceedings would meet our high standards. One brave soul stood atop a mechanical lift holding a digital projector, while I stood below him, hoping for a spectacular failure.

Lest you judge me a traitor, please know that the failure I hoped for wasn’t a failure of the event or that of any member of our hardworking team. Instead, as we worked on a solution to our technical problems, I hoped that the latest attempt at a solution would either be a success or fail as quickly as possible.

Failure gets a bad rap.  We let fear of it control us and keep us from pursuing new opportunities or facing new challenges. I believe that failing, in the right context, can be a good thing, second only to success.

In the case of our problematic projector, we had been forced to move it across a large space in hopes of casting a larger image. The new location necessitated reversing the image, alternating our lighting scheme, and relocating roughly a hundred chairs. With this is mind, we chose to simulate the strategy with our hero atop the lift, while committing as few of those other resources as possible. This way, if the plan wasn’t going to work, it would fail before we had wasted the time and energy required to put everything into a final position that wouldn’t actual be final. Fortunately, failure didn’t come. The strategy worked, and we proceeded to hold an amazing event.

If you work hard, dedicate yourself, and are very lucky, the same failure for which I hoped can be yours.

Redefining Your Data

I once heard a student giving testimony about the university’s mentorship program with the Belton Area Chamber of Commerce. He gave the program a glowing review, not because it had affirmed his career goals, but because his experience had made it plain that the profession he had shadowed was not a good fit for him after all. Imagine how much costlier that realization would have been if it had come on the tail end of a relevant degree, student loans, and bills needing payment.

I’ll always remember a question my sixth grade science teacher once posed to our class. He asked us, “What would cause a scientific experiment to be considered a failure?” His answer surprised me. It wasn’t that the stated hypothesis was disproved. It was that the data from the experiment was lost. Anything short of that would represent an advancement in scientific knowledge and, therefore, a success.

What’s that, Dr. Bell? Your experiment led to an explosion strong enough to blow the roof off of your lab? Did the explosion destroy all your data? No? Well, Captain Skylight, congratulations on another successful experiment.

So you thought that you wanted to be an astronomer but you found that introductory class boring and impenetrable? Congratulations, you are now free to start looking for a career path that has more to do with rockets than waves of light.

Did you try out for the baseball team only to fall short of making the cut? Let me congratulate you on having the courage to try. I’m happy to report that your potential future career includes all the jobs in the world, current and future, minus playing major league ball.

Let’s take the sting out of failure. Here is my hope: that we would be brave enough to take educated risks, and if they do not pan out as we hoped, that those failures be quick and affordable, and that we might have the presence of mind to celebrate the lessons those spectacular failures offer us.

Wondering what to do with those spectacular failures? The UMHB Career Services Center provides assistance to both undergraduate and graduate students in career development and preparation endeavors. Check out their website to view the services they offer!