There Are Lessons in Failure

I stared at the microphone as if it was a cobra about to strike.  What was I doing?  I didn’t know the first thing about podcasting except what I’d learned by listening to other podcasts.  I’d bought a few pieces of equipment because I’d had this crazy notion that I could set the podcasting world on fire if I’d only just express myself.  If I could step out of my comfort zone.  Now that the moment had come I froze.  What if I made a mistake?  What if I failed?

I didn’t fail.  I hit record and published the very first episode of the “Philosophy Walk” podcast over two years ago.  It didn’t set the world on fire but it has been listened to in over 80 countries at last count.  The show is on hiatus but it’s still there for interested ears on iTunes.  I’m proud of the show and I learned a lot about podcasting.  Enough so that I launched two more podcasts shortly thereafter.  The sad part is that it almost never happened because I was afraid I was going to fail.

The fear of failing, of making mistakes, stops many of us in our tracks.  Introverts and extroverts alike have stepped up to the plate with bat in hand, only to let it collect dust in the garage after those first three strikes.  They take themselves out of the game.  I am going to go out on a limb here and say that it’s tougher on us introverts.  If your shy as well you may really feel that you have an uphill battle.  Shyness, by its very nature, is the almost disabling fear of being judged coupled with the certainty that mistakes are around every corner.  Introverts aren’t necessarily shy but, having been raised in a country that idealizes extroverts, there is most certainly an inferiority complex brewing at the back of our minds.  As children we  felt as if there was something wrong with us and as teenagers we struggled with our nature.  I  felt more comfortable with a book in my hand than I did with a bat.  Those of us who did grab our bats struggled with the dilemma of feeling different and wanting to prove that we weren’t.  We were afraid to fail.  And that fear often succeeded in stopping us.I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.  – Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison was an introvert.  His happiest moments were spent alone in his lab surrounded by half-finished inventions and dreams of greatness.  When it came time to finding the right filament for his lightbulb he and his team failed time after time.  His wasn’t the only team trying to find a solution.  There were other teams around the world in the same race.  His dream was to create the first commercially viable lightbulb and the trail to realizing that dream was littered with failure.  He could have stepped off of the trail after each failure but he pushed ahead.  In 1877 he was quoted as saying “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”  Shortly after that quote the carbonized bamboo filament lit the way into the future and into people’s homes.

Wayne Gretzky, an incredibly successful hockey player and coach once said, “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.”  What can be taken as a quote for a missed opportunity can also be taken as a rally call for overcoming a fear of failure.  If I’d listened to the voices inside that told me I wasn’t good enough, “Philosophy Walk” would never have been recorded or released.  Over fifty episodes later it is still going strong in spite of my self-imposed hiatus from recording to concentrate on helping my fellow introverts out.

Did I make mistakes?  You bet I did.  I made many.  More than I can count and more than I like to admit.  Those mistakes have been captured and immortalized forever in my first handful of episodes.  With each episode I grew more confident and I learned a little bit more about recording, about microphones, and about audio production.  The shows became better as a result.  I’m not an expert, there are folks out there who have been doing this a lot longer than I have, but I am as close to an expert as I ever imagined I’d be.  Especially on that very first morning when I sat in front of the mic, certain that it was mocking me.  Almost daring me to screw up.  And I did.  Over and over.  I’m glad I did.  With every mistake I learned what not to do and, in the end, those are the best lessons of all.

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