Learning from failure (again)

(From 2 June 2011)When I talk about making connections, I’m really talking about what some people call connecting the dots. I’m talking about looking ahead to where I want to go and understanding how to get from here to there. That includes drawing on all the knowledge and experience I possess at any given time to define the path, the shortcuts, and the pitfalls. Maybe all that really means is using what I know to make good decisions.

While I like to devote more time to the successes that illustrate the value of this kind of approach, sometimes the failures can be just as enlightening. This story is one that remains particularly painful for me, but from which I’ve been able to truly understand the value of thinking through the connections that can make all the difference.

On my last day of junior high, I went through the usual ritual of signing yearbooks. Since I knew that I would be moving to another school district over the summer, my yearbook greetings took on a more grandiose tenor. Add to it that sometime earlier, I had discovered that one of my classmates was actually my second cousin when we both attended the funeral of our long-lived great-grandmother. With the typical 14-year-old flair for insensitivity, I wrote something in his yearbook to the effect of “See you at the next funeral!”

I didn’t understand the funny look on my cousin’s face when he read my inscription or his silence as he walked away, but I didn’t give it much thought. It wasn’t until days later that it hit me: Roger had very recently lost his older brother in a car accident. I don’t think I could have been more insensitive with my comment to him. Even worse, in the almost three decades that have passed since that day, I have never again seen him to apologize.

Over the years, I have continued to pull important lessons from that experience. THINK before speaking or writing. DRAW from all your experience and knowledge to make connections; even the things tucked in the recesses of your mind matter to someone. UNDERSTAND that there are some things that should never be taken lightly. Even without the tragic circumstances, the funeral comment would have been in poor taste. Finally, say you’re sorry when you can. I’m still waiting for that chance.

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