Two Certainties: Life Lessons from My Parents

“Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Abraham Lincoln
“Success doesn’'t make you and failure doesn'’t break you.” – Zig Ziglar

Life Lessons on Failure

It was my senior year at Sammamish High School in Bellevue, WA and I was preparing to take that next big step in many young peoples lives. I was looking into attending college and had begun the process of checking out schools and determining what kind of options that I had in front of me. My grades were solid (about 3.4); I was very active in sports from football, wrestling & track. In addition, I was involved in our school Acapella & Jazz choirs so, I was feeling really good about my chances to get accepted to some fairly good universities.

The challenge, as with many others, that was laid out in front of me was the simple fact that we (and when I say “we” I mean my parents) didn'’t have the kind of income to pay for most the colleges that I would have been interested in attending. But, do you think a small obstacle like that stopped me from pursuing those schools? You bet it did! (Remember, I wasn'’t quite the same person as I have now become and needed to learn some valuable lessons.) So, I decided to enroll in a school that I felt very confident I could get accepted in and in which the tuition and cost of living was at a minimum. I chose to attend Central Washington University in Ellensburg, WA for the fact that it had both the ‘fore mentioned criteria and my brother was attending it as well.

Okay, so the school had been selected and now all I had to do was figure out how I was going to pay for it since nearly 100% of my education would have to be covered by me. What were my options? I could get financial aid and be prepared to pay it off for years to come or I could apply for and pursue scholarships and have someone else pay for my education. Well, the second option sounded good to me so, I went out and intensely researched available scholarships and grants for nearly 2 weeks.

Ultimately, I did find one that fit my situation perfectly. It was $20,000 scholarship based on financial need and additionally, did not require stellar grades, focused a lot on the amount of involvement and participation in school (no one was more involved then me) and to top it off two of the faculty members from my school were on the board. I was a virtual lock for this, all I had to do was take care of all the steps and it would be mine. This was the perfect fit for me.

Looking back, this was the first time I ever set a goal. I dove head first into making certain that I got this scholarship. I followed all the steps, got all the references, wrote an amazing cover letter (okay, I thought it was amazing) submitted it well on time and just waited for the news that I would be receiving the scholarship, pick up the check and I would ride off into the sunset, $20,000 richer. Well, the news did come and it was not the outcome I had staked all my hopes on.

I did not receive the check and there was no riding off into the sunset. I was devastated. How could this happen to me? I did everything I was supposed to and had all the right criteria and I still didn'’t get it! This was not right! This was not fair!! The person who did get it had better grades, sure but that was it! I mean, I was Homecoming King, the winner of our schools Mr Totem contest, a champion wrestler!! All the school loved me so, how in the world did someone else get this scholarship?!!

I went home to tell my parents the horrible, life ending news and hopefully elicit enough outrage from them that they would demand some sort of recount or ask for a special tribunal to look into the judges and their unfair decision. I remember sobbing uncontrollably in my mothers lap and railing about the injustice of it all.

After a time, my father patted me on the back and simply said something to the effect of “"That’s life son, we all fail from time to time, but you’ll make it"” and my mother said “"Life is not fair sometimes, David. But, as long as you tried your best and gave it all you had you have nothing to be ashamed about. Did you try your best?"” “"Yes",” I added through tear filled eyes. She gave me a hug and said “"Then be proud, ‘cause we are".” At the time I thought, “That’s it? That is all you two have got for me?” What I didn'’t know at the time, what took me several years to realize, was that that conversation taught me more about being a success than anything I have learned in my 20 plus years since and I will be eternally grateful for the painful and valuable lesson I was able to learn at such a young age.

1.  Failure is Guaranteed

I am sure my parents weren'’t thinking at the time, "“We are now going to teach David Life Lesson #5 on how to succeed"”, but they did. As soon as I understood that failure is a part of life and that the only way I can'’t fail is if I don'’t try, which in my mind is a failure, I became stronger and more willing to put myself in situations that I might fail, but then again could succeed big time.

There are not a lot of guarantees in life, but of this I am most certain: Failure is GUARANTEED!! We are going to fail, so as soon as you get over it the sooner you can learn from it and move forward.

2.  Failure is Essential to Our Personal Growth

I am not saying that it is not painful to fail or that you should be looking to fail and jump up and down shouting “"Yeah, I’m a failure!!"” What I am saying, and what I am fully confident in is that I am the person I am today, is in big part because of the amount of failures I have experienced in my life. I have learned more about success from my failures than from the successes. Often I think about what would have happened to me if I had received the scholarship and not had the opportunity to learn the lessons my parents so, lovingly taught me. If I had gone to college without experiencing this amazing gift of failure…. Who knows, but I tell you that I am a much better person because of that experience and would not trade any of that pain. I am also reminded of a quote that I find is appropriate: “"The person I want to be I am now becoming."”

Thanks Mom and Dad for helping me to learn these essential lessons. I love you so much.