The Secret to Failure

Monday, November 28, 2011

I was going to be a lawyer. That was my dream when I started college, and I still wanted it when I graduated.

But not a single law school accepted me.


The reason I failed is simple. I didn't get accepted because I didn't apply.

Why did I doom myself to failure? The story is too long for a blog post, but after changing my major and working hard for a B average, I decided I didn't have what it took. So I changed course and entered a PhD program in psychology.

I did quite well in graduate school, but I wasn't happy. And the dream kept nagging at me.

Tomorrow I will be speaking to a group of high school students. I was asked to talk about what inspired me in my profession, but I'm going to talk about failure, instead.

Avoiding or overcoming failure, that is. Because after earning my master's degree, I changed course again and did what I should have done earlier.

And this time two law schools accepted me.

That led to thirty years in a successful and fulfilling law career. A career I enjoyed immensely, even after the dream changed.

This time, the dream said, "Write."

The first dream was fulfilled and the second is in progress. Although I've had one book and a number of magazine articles and devotions published, I've also received my share of rejection slips. But even the rejections are successes.

Because you aren't a failure until you stop trying.

"Please Sir, I Want Some More"

Monday, November 21, 2011

Oliver Twist asked for more gruel because he was hungry--and because of peer pressure, but that isn't the subject of this post.

I get hungry, too. If I haven't eaten for four or five hours, I become so crabby that nobody wants to be around me.

Of course, Oliver's definition of hunger was different from mine. He was near starvation, and I'm used to a full stomach.

Oliver held out an empty bowl and asked the cook for what he needed.

I hold out a full bowl and ask God for what I want. After all, why would I ask for what I need when He's already given it? A loving family, good friends, a comfortable home, plenty of food for the table.

So when I say, "Please Sir, I want some more," am I being ungrateful?

Still, there are some things I do need more of. I need more contentment with what I have and more thankfulness to God for giving it to me.

That's why my Thanksgiving prayer starts with "thank you" and ends with, "please God, give me more contentment and thankfulness."

And that's my prayer for you this holiday, too.

NOTE: The picture is George Cruikshank's illustration for the first printing of Oliver Twist. The book appeared as a monthly serial in Bentley's Miscellany, and this illustration probably accompanied a March 1837 installment.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Patience may be a virtue, but it isn't one of mine.

Saturday I drove to Kokomo, Indiana for a luncheon. The trip was approximately 130 miles one way, and the drive took just under three hours. Almost half of it was along two-lane highways posted at 55 mph and punctuated by small towns with even lower speed limits.

On the way there, my GPS took me a round-about way. Since I was constantly watching for the next turn, I didn't have a chance to get bored.

For the return trip, I looked at the old-fashioned paper map and selected my own route, which was more direct and probably quicker. But it was also quite monotonous as I passed miles and miles of brown fields and an occasional bare tree. I just wanted to reach the expressway so I could get home faster.

That isn't a criticism of rural living. I grew up in a small country town, and I enjoyed those years. But after living in the Chicago area for several decades, I've gotten used to more varied scenery.

And I've forgotten that Midwestern farms have a different type of variety. The straw-colored fields I passed Saturday will turn snow-white in winter, dirt-brown in early spring, and green or golden in late spring and summer. The sleeping fields of November are renewing themselves so they can be productive again next year. Land that never gets a chance to rest soon becomes depleted of the minerals that plants require to thrive. So every season has a role in producing a bountiful harvest. We just can't see the part of the process that happens underground.

Life is like that, too. When I am in the brown areas of my life, I find it hard to picture any yield at all, let alone a bumper crop. Yet it is during those brown times that I am revived. Unfortunately, I don't always realize that until I have a chance to look back.

That's why patience is a virtue.

Familiarity Breeds Comfort

Monday, November 7, 2011

When I told my daughter that we were thinking of selling our house, she came up with all sorts of reasons why we shouldn't. But I think her real objection comes from her emotional connection with the home she lived in from birth through college.

I didn't have that stability when I was young. My family moved five times before I finished college, and that doesn't count two sabbaticals to foreign countries. Our longest stay was eight years at DeTour Village, Michigan in a house that was cold and drafty. It did have good climbing trees, a garage roof we jumped off of (when my parents weren't looking), a raised front porch with enough room underneath to play house, and an enclosed back porch that was a great place for curling up with a book. But even the house at DeTour didn't create an emotional connection.

That privilege belonged to my grandparents' house in Iowa, shown in the three pictures with this post.

My mother grew up on a farm, and we visited at least once a year. I loved that old farmhouse. I even loved the wall plates for the lights, which used buttons instead of the switches we see today. You would press one button to turn the lights on and a second button to turn the lights off. I was fascinated.

The house wasn't perfect, of course. The small kitchen and the only bathroom (cramped, with a shower but no tub) were located in the original one-story structure at the rear of the house and shared the space with a separate dining room. But the two-story part had plenty of large rooms, and I would have loved to turn one of the four upstairs bedrooms and my grandfather's main-floor bedroom into full baths. Then I could have knocked out the existing bathroom and used that square footage to expand the kitchen. After the remodeling, it would truly have been my dream house.

I knew, of course, that my fantasy was just that. The location simply wasn't realistic for my career goals, and when my grandparents grew older and eventually moved in with one of my aunts, the house fell into disrepair. In the end, the only choice was to raze it.

But I miss that old house just as Caroline will miss this one if we move out. Even though she now owns her own home and rarely has a chance to come back here for a visit, this house will always have a place in her heart.

Because familiarity breeds comfort.