Today I was finishing up a one page summary called “10 Things that Make a Good Challenge”, a distilled version of Chloe Varelidi’s excellent post, and I read and reread these lines

“By tinkering learners feel safe. They’ll try new things and fail multiple times before mastering a skill,”

several times. I’m thinking about failure and how freaking wonderful it is.

  • Last week someone said to me “It’s not if it fails, it’s how it fails.”
  • Last month someone said to me, “I love that those of us working in the open are encouraged to fail.”
  • Last year someone said to me, “Just accept it as a fail, collect your lessons, and move on.”

Everyone fails. I’ve failed extraordinarily in my life, and I’m really happy about it. At first, you find yourself failing, and it’s pretty painful. After awhile though, failure becomes a good friend. After awhile you find yourself failing and you think, “Oh awesome! I just learned X.”

That’s what failure is, isn’t it? Failure is a lesson in how not to do something. It’s a lack of success that teaches you what you need to be successful. It’s an omission of an expected result that inevitably leads to understanding of how to get the results you were looking for.

A pretty big part of the reason I consider myself a webmaker is because I have spent a considerable amount of time failing. I learned HTML and CSS trying to help a failing webzine not fail (they failed anyway), I learned a couple of content management systems the same way, and by extension, PHP (which I don’t claim to know persay, I just to understand enough to hack at it). I learned video and sound editing, more software programs than I can count, and US regulations surrounding non-profit organizations through failure. I’m currently getting my feet wet in the Django framework by failing at Unix. You should see my Terminal logs; they basically say “Good God you are failing here.” I fail at database tasks, server management, and a million other technical things. I’m not a programmer, see, I’m a failure.

The lessons I’ve learned from failing at things have made me a pretty big proponent for the process of failing. It doesn’t hurt much anymore. I still see myself failing and struggle not to, but in the end when the failure comes, I look at the body of work that brought me there. I see massive thought processes, chaotic digital skill aquirement, and tangible objects that other people can learn from, and I realize that it’s failure that taught me how to be successful in life.

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