FAIL BETTER

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Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

~ Samuel Beckett

Almost two years ago, my friend Terry and I went to live in Dublin for a while before going on a Interrail trip through Ireland and the UK. I’ve recently started to feel very nostalgic about this trip in general and specifically about Dublin, and since there is nothing going on in my live right now anyway I thought I’d do a #TBT post about that trip. Back then we had a small travel blog called Streets and Gutters going on, but mostly just posted pictures with very little text so I guess I can post about some of these things again without being redundant.

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One thing we saw back then which still impresses me was the FAIL BETTER Exhibition at the Dublin Science Gallery at Trinity College. The Science Gallery is a exhibition space dedicated to combining art and science, and they themselves describe the Fail Better exhibition like this: The goal of FAIL BETTER is to open up a public conversation about failure, particularly the instructive role of failure, as it relates to very different areas of human endeavour. Rather than simply celebrating failure, which can come at great human, environmental and economic cost, we want to open up a debate on the role of failure in stimulating creativity: in learning, in science, engineering and design.

Okay, that sounds rather dry, so what was FAIL BETTER? In the main part of the exhibition, several objects together with accompanying text were on display, serving as examples of scientific, economic, and personal failures. One of the examples is that of the Mars Climate Orbiter, a space probe launched by NASA in 1998. Almost a year later, the space probe was declared lost and the mission was declared a failure. What happened to the 125 million dollar spacecraft? Well, one of the engineering teams was using imperial units, while another used metric units. And somehow, somewhere, something got lost in translation, the Orbiter hit Mars’ atmosphere at the wrong altitude and likely disintegrated due to the atmospheric pressure. Oopsie. On top of losing a 125 million dollar spacecraft, NASA now also sat on billions of toy Mars Orbiters which were supposed to be THE big toy for Christmas that year, but now obviously nobody wanted. Must have been a fun day at the NASA offices. Anyway, the point of that story was that if even hundreds of the smartest people in the world working together can make mistakes, then so can you. I assume that’s supposed to be reassuring, so let’s just go with that.

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It also told the personal stories of Sonia O’Sullivan, an Olympic runner who failed at getting a medal during the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 but finally succeeded in 2000 in Sydney, and Ranulph Fiennes, a British expedition leader who finally managed to climb Mount Everest after two previous, failed attempts in 2009 at the age of 65.

In addition to several examples of failure, the exhibition also contained the big prints of quotes about failure and, my personal favorite, a wall where visitors could write down their own experiences with failure. I will never forget reading the story from the girl who confused her deodorant with hairspray and deeply feeling her pain, as I myself have failed at the exact same thing in the past.

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And I think this is why this exhibition has stayed with me for so long: I, just like everybody else, have failed many times at many things, and hopefully, will continue to fail. Theodore Roosevelt said that “the only man who makes no mistakes is the man who never does anything”. Not only is failure inevitable though, without it there would be no improvement, no progress. If nothing ever goes wrong, why would you change anything? Failures force us to go back to the drawing board, to find out what went wrong and why, and how to fix it. In the end, the results are usually even better than what we started with. I already mentioned some of my personal failures in my last post, and why I am grateful for them. I wasn’t actually invincible or perfectly happy before coming to India, I just hadn’t been seriously challenged yet. Only now that I am more deeply aware of my flaws can I work on truly improving myself. I believe one of our society’s biggest problems is our fear of failure. We are so scared of doing something wrong, of putting ourselves out there and risking something, that we rather do nothing at all. So we take the easy way, we travel the road our parents, siblings, friends have traveled before us, we only do things that we know can’t go wrong. I notice this when I talk to my family about my career choices and my decision to move to India, when I try to recruit other college graduates for the internship program, or when I talk to people who graduated high school with me and never left our home town. It makes me so sad to see so much potential go to waste, just because we are scared of making a mistake.

I recently finished reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, and I would love to buy a hundred copies and hand them to anyone I meet. She writes that “when we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make”. That doesn’t mean that we should be reckless with our money, creativity, feelings, or even our lives. As in the Seth Godin quote above, we should fail fast, cheap, often, and in a way that doesn’t kill us, so that we can learn and grow from our experiences. If you want to try something new though, there can never be a 100% guarantee that it will work, so at some point you’ll just have to take that leap of faith and get out there.

And with that, I would like to ask you about your experiences with failure. When have you failed? What have you learned? Are you afraid of failing or are you daring greatly?

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*All the pictures were taken from our old travel blog, and I cannot remember which pictures Terry took and which I did. So in any case, credit goes to her as well 🙂

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