Master This, Do That: Failure and Life-Long Learning

I have been running a small business for a little over two years, a communication education firm. Despite my 10+ years teaching and a PhD in English– specializing in Writing, I am on my second major career change and my fourth major career setback. I’m not writing this to complain, mind you. Rather, I’m taking a step back from what is arguably a very stressful life choice to reflect on how we grow and learn as humans.

As Augustine wrote, “To Err is human, to forgive Divine.” He wasn’t just talking about forgiving other people, but acknowledging that we are imperfect creatures. We struggle and change and at the end of the day, we survive and do the best we can. It’s a mostly optimistic view of the world, which contradicts the nihilism we see in favorite tv shows like GOT, Walking Dead, or Preacher. Life is not all useless and horrible.

I spent years and years trying to help my students understand that failures happen and we learn from them. We have to experiment and try things out. If we don’t, we are doomed to regurgitate the same things over and over again. Invention does not happen in a vacuum, but stems from us taking what we are already know and making changes to meet a need. I’m always concerned that the first real setback will really knock them down, because they haven’t learned to deal with failures. They tend to be fixated on their grades, and any experimentation might put their grades in jeopardy. They resist. They complain. How do we encourage life-long learning if we are afraid to experiment? 

On the other side of the nihilism around us, we are inundated with self-help books, posters, and cliches. They are everywhere. I googled “What are the qualities of an entrepreneur” and got the following helpful tips:

  1. Self-Discipline
  2.  Integrity
  3.  Persistence
  4.  A Clear Sense of Direction
  5.  Decisive * [1]  

What happens if you aren’t so type A that you can or want to be up at 4am? In other words, trying to follow all the advice out there is just as likely to result in a person feeling overwhelmed to the point of standing still. Ever tried to grocery shop, while trying to follow all of the advice about losing weight at the same time? 


Follow all these steps to success; follow your dreams. I can’t help, but remember that there are lots of people out there who mine coal or take out trash. I doubt they are following their dreams to success and some of the most famous and successful people in the world died alone and penniless.

So where does this leave us? 

1. Thou art human. You are human. You are flawed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to be happy.

2. Connect. Reach out to others. The more you communicate with others, then more you are able to feel connected to your community and to life. 

3. Forgive. Forgive yourself and forgive others. We are not going to fulfill everyone’s expectations. We make mistakes and we make poor choices. It does not mean we are less than someone else. 

4. Learn. Keep learning new things. Stretch yourself. TRY NEW THINGS! Find what makes you tick. Ignore the haters. 

Yes, all this advice seems to contradict what I said earlier about too much advice. Really, the point is be yourself, be considerate of others, and remember Thou art human. 



Would You Like to Learn More?
Sign up for our monthly newletter with tips, articles, and upcoming events from Wordstylus. We will not share your information with others.
* = required field

powered by MailChimp!