Failures : Embracing the Past and the Opinions of Others

A Scene on the Tube

This week on the tube I saw an amusing situation. I was on my way to work on the Bakerloo line. It wasn’t crowded and the door between the two carriages was swinging open and making a loud metallic clanging noise when it swung back. In all, there were about eight of us sitting in the carriage, uncomfortably putting up with the noise, until one Indian gentleman in a sharp business suit took it upon himself to tackle the door.

This man approached the door, sized it up and grabbed the handle, forced the door closed but it didn’t stay shut. He kept slamming the door and twisting but his technique just didn’t solve the problem. He gave up, returned to his seat and looked a little glum. The other passengers exchanged wry smiles at this episode. The door continued to clang. Ten or Twenty seconds passed.

The gentleman suddenly bolted out of his seat, strode purposefully towards the door and forced it shut, twisting the handle in a different way. It stayed shut. I can’t say there was rapturous applause but the other seven of us were certainly happy that in the case of ‘Man Vs. Door’, man had won. I guess we all just felt relieved that he had not given up, that he had reclaimed his dignity and most of all that we were no longer inconvenienced by the intrusive noise.

My thoughts on embracing past failures

It was only a trivial matter, but this scene got me thinking; would he have made his second attempt if there had been no-one to witness his first failure? Was it something within this man that he was driven to solve problems in his environment, or was it because seven strangers had witnessed the door getting the better of him the first time around?

I think that it’s probably a bit of both. On a more serious level, we all like to put failures behind us as soon as possible, especially those that resulted in damaged pride or some kind of loss of social standing. When we dwell too much upon our failings it can make us miserable, but with the right perspective, we can use past failings to propel us forward. Every mistake made (and recognized as such) is a lesson learned.

I contend that to enhance our productivity and problem-solving abilities, we should give thought to examine times in our life when we have made errors in judgement. I don’t mean to encourage total introspection, but by exploring what has not gone to plan in the past and how we could have acted differently, we can better prepare ourselves for the future. There is also something to be said for acting in public. Within reason, the pressure of the opinions of others can be a driving force to success.