Big Bucket of Fail!


Even 10-year-old boys get tired of playing video games (not often, but it does happen). This past weekend, my grandson approached me carrying a box he had discovered while rummaging through our stash of board games.

“Do you want to put this together?” he asked.

The box contained a 1/200 scale model of a 19th century whaling ship. The pieces of the model were made from injection molded plastic, held together by a plastic web of connectors. We dutifully trimmed all the pieces from the web, sorting the components by color. The marketing copy on the front of the box, listed the attributes of the model in glowing terms. The first bullet point assured us that our purchase was, “Easy to assemble.” This should have been our first warning. The second red flag was the lack of any instructions, or at least any instructions in English.

Even without instructions the two halves of the hull and the large deck piece were an obvious place the start. Sad to say, even the largest and simplest components mocked us. We could get the two halves of the hull together, kind of, but when it came to connecting the deck to the hull we were stumped. With no diagrams or the ability to read Korean (the country of origin) we were at a loss with the deck unit. If we kept the hull pieces together, there was no way to attach the deck to the top of the assembled hull. When we tried to place the deck piece just under the top lip of the starboard hull half, the port section of hull no longer made connection with its mate. It didn’t take long for us to start laughing and getting silly with the whole project.

Still laughing my grandson announced, “This is going in the big bucket of fail!

When did 10-year-olds get so wise?

I almost titled this post, “The Lost Art of Failing.” In a culture where everyone gets a trophy, where “I’m a Winner!” stickers are applied indiscriminately, have we lost the ability to see the value of failing? Have we become so risk averse that we would rather attempt nothing than expose ourselves to possible ridicule for failing or God-forbid, being a loser?

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.”

Not failing proves nothing. Failing is absolute proof that you tried.

The famous inventor, Thomas Edison, is often cited as an example of someone who persevered  through many failures. My brief research revealed that his number of failed experiments in the process of developing the incandescent bulb are often exaggerated. Numbers of 5,000 or even 10,000 are tossed about when the actual number is closer to 1,000. That many failed theories is an incredible amount to work through but pales in comparison to the number of his attempts to develop the storage battery.

The authorized biography by Frank Dyer and T. C. Martin, Edison: His Life and Inventions (the first edition of the book is 1910), quotes Edison’s friend and associate Walter S. Mallory about these experiments:

“This [the research] had been going on more than five months, seven days a week, when I was called down to the laboratory to see him [Edison].  I found him at a bench about three feet wide and twelve feet long, on which there were hundreds of little test cells that had been made up by his corps of chemists and experimenters.  I then learned that he had thus made over nine thousand experiments in trying to devise this new type of storage battery, but had not produced a single thing that promised to solve the question.  In view of this immense amount of thought and labor, my sympathy got the better of my judgment, and I said: ‘Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?’  Edison turned on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: ‘Results!  Why, man, I have gotten lots of results!  I know several thousand things that won’t work!'”

I can’t help but wonder what Edison’s response would have been if someone had attempted to give him a trophy or a sticker before he actually succeeded? I can’t imagine that it would have been pretty.

Several years ago I taught my grandson to play chess. He has yet to best me in a match. One day he will beat me and on that day he will know that he has earned the victory. That triumph will be far sweeter than any hollow win where I did not play my best. I am not being mean. He is not being emotionally damaged by not winning at chess. Of course it does help that there are games he can whoop-up on me, such as the aforementioned video games.


In some small way, I hope I’m preparing him for life as an adult, and who knows, maybe greatness. History is filled with many examples of famous men and women who fought through failure after failure to finally emerge victorious.

So grab yourself a big bucket and get out there and FAIL!


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