The Norman Transcript

Opinion

September 18, 2011

Author says our failures may teach us more than successes

NORMAN — Authors quickly find a phrase to pen when signing copies of their books. At first glance, Devery Youngblood’s “Fail well!” could be taken as a slap. But given the topic of his first book, it fits.

The idea for the book, “Successful Failure,” has been parked in his head for years. He’s watched — and experienced — personal, corporate and political failures for years. It’s what we learn from failure and the changes we make afterward that makes a difference. Writing the book was cathartic.

His basic premise: Americans tend to ignore failure and thus miss out on valuable lessons. Kids just “reboot” their video games. Adults file bankruptcy. Companies too big to fail are bailed out. Partners move on to the next marriage. Coaches sign on with another team. Husky people find another diet. Politicians gloss over what didn’t work and move onto the next hill.

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“Because we don’t talk about it, we think we’re the only ones that fail,” said Youngblood, 51, a native of Laverne, Okla., and an employee of the Chickasaw Nation. “When I started this it became clear very early on that I had to talk about my own failures for the book to work.”

Besides his own experiences and that of friends, the book looks at great failures in history. Harry Truman and Abraham Lincoln, for example, failed well before achieving a level of greatness.

“Based on what we know now neither Harry Truman nor Abraham Lincoln could get elected now,” Youngblood said. “They were miserable failures early in life.”

But they didn’t ignore the failures and grew from their misfortunes, something that doesn’t always happen. Most often changes in lifestyles must occur for the failure to teach us anything.

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The self-help culture can be a placebo. Cheering can be good but it overlooks the elephant in the room. We must find ways to rescue ourselves.

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