The Silver Lining


Here’s a story that amazes me. Edgar was fired from job after job: cowboy, policeman, law clerk, and stenographer. Then he failed when he tried to make a living selling door to door. Not to be denied, Edgar started his own business, an advertising agency – and went bankrupt. An eternal optimist, he decided to start a correspondent school to teach people how to succeed in business. That failed too.

He was thirty-seven years old, nothing but failure, a flop. Perhaps out of desperation, perhaps because fantasizing was the only thing he felt he could do well, he wrote a story about a man in the jungle of Africa. Two years later that story became a book, Tarzan of the Apes.

I don’t know why Edgar Burroughs had to fail so much before he found success, but I do know that his failures were necessary to keep him from settling down before he found the career that has produced more than 36 million books in thirty languages.

Have you failed once? Maybe twice? That’s Ok. Make another run at success. It’s the only way you’ll get beyond failing. Abraham Lincoln, one of the best-known and heroic American presidents started life as a bundle of failure. He failed in business (1831); defeated for the legislature (1832); again failed in business (1834); lost his sweetheart (1835); had a nervous breakdown (1836); defeated for Congress (1845); again defeated for Congress (1848); defeated for senate (1855); defeated for vice presidency (1956); defeated for senate (1858) and ELECTED PRESIDENT OF USA (1860). How would you describe Lincoln’s feat? One writer has compiled Lincoln’s feet under the title “Salute To Courage.”

There is an Old Norwegian story about a fisherman and his two sons. One day they went out to sea to fish. As they headed home with a big catch, the sky blackened and a severe storm caught them. And they were lost and faced with death in the middle of the sea. They had no idea how to find their way back home.

Suddenly a dim yellow glow appeared on the horizon. As they headed toward the light, it grew brighter. They thought someone was burning a fire signal, a beacon for them. When they came in closer, they rejoiced to see their hometown and their friends yelling to them from the dock.

As they pulled in, the fisherman’s wife cried out in tears, “Darling, the most terrible things has happened. I’m so glad you are home. We have lost everything; fire has wiped out our house.” The fisherman replied “what happened? “I was cooking in the kitchen and the fry-pan caught fire and I dropped it and our whole house caught fire and burned down.”

The fisherman climbed out of the boat and didn’t say a word. His wife asked “Darling, didn’t you hear me? We’ve lost everything.” The fisherman put his arms around her. Let me tell you the other side of the story. The same fire that burned down our house saved our lives.

All failure is relative: relative to the perspective of side and of time. From the shore, the fire seemed a tragedy. From the sea, the fire was salvation, hope, and life.

Willie Stargell was for years one of the best American baseball players. He played in seven all-star games, won the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award, and played in the World Series twice. On the surface, it all seemed like a success. However, Willie also has the unenviable record of committing the worst foul shots (1,936 times) in baseball history.

But given the perspectives of time, Willie has written: “I feel that to succeed one must fail and the more you fail, the more you learn about succeeding.

To be obsessed with failure or disappointment is a crime. If you learned something, if you were moral, if you kept perspective, no event is a failure. See what you can learn and discover about yourself through failure. Then it will be a success.

Don’t quote me. Quote Rodney Laughlin. Happy weekend.

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