Start Your Week Off Write: 8 Lessons on Learning to Fail with Grace


Chocolate chip cookies made to perfection every time by Musician in Law. I have accepted I will never attain this cookie nirvana.

Failure. Most people don’t make failure a goal, but we fail from time to time. No one is perfect and whether it’s completely our own fault or we get some help, we all screw up. If you want to succeed you must risk failure. You WILL fail. Failing is not what will stop you. How you respond to failure is what will stop you.

If you’ve been following along on this blog for any length of time, you know I have a deep love-hate relationship with cooking. I’ve been fighting an uphill battle to become a better cook since I was a teenager. It’s not that I don’t want to cook, I like to avoid it because I have such a high failure rate. At the same time I want to conquer it, like a climber conquers a mountain. I’m still climbing. I realized recently that cooking has taught me most of what I know about the art of failing with grace.

Lesson #1 Face Your Failure and Accept It For What It Is

“There’s not much to it. Cover the meat with water, sprinkle with salt and pepper, put on the lid. Stick it in the oven at 350. When the meat falls apart with a fork, it’s done. I need you to do this so the dinner will be ready when I get home.” Those were the instructions my mother gave me to make my first-ever pot roast. Being that she was not a prolific cook to begin with, I hadn’t learned much in the kitchen. So I followed the instructions to a T. The only problem: She never mentioned I needed to stay home and watch the roast.

My fourteen-year old brain thought I did all that was required of me, so I rewarded myself by hanging out with my friends down the street. My mistake became known to the entire neighborhood several hours later as smoke poured out of the window air conditioner and the fire department rescued what was left of the roast. They left the blackened pot on the front lawn. I had to face the fact I screwed up royally.

If we don’t admit failure, we can’t learn from it and are destined to repeat it.

Lesson #2 Be Content That You Made Your Best Efforts But Don’t Be Satisfied

I hadn’t improved much in the cooking department when Keeper Hubby and I got married. He willingly ate my culinary repertoire: hot dogs and box macaroni, tuna noodle casserole, fish sticks, and fried bologna sandwiches. You can see why he’s such a Keeper. I put all my efforts into preparing the meals properly, plating them in the most appetizing way and trying to give variety with different side dishes of canned vegetables, but I was not satisfied to stay at that primitive level of cooking.

I started reading cookbooks and trying out new recipes. I had a lot of clunkers before I had any winners, but I finally added lasagna to the line-up. It gave me (and Keeper Hubby) hope I could succeed.

Be proud of yourself for the work you’ve done, but continue to reach for the next level. No one has ever ‘arrived’. If you have, you’re going to have a boring rest of your life.

Lesson #3 Comfort Yourself After Failures, But Don’t Keep Replaying It

The last cake I made for Artist Daughter's birthday. The bottom layer of this three layer cake has blue icing. Yeah, that's what everyone else said.

With three kids, I’ve attempted to make a lot of birthday cakes. I say attempted, because I can’t recall a single one turning out properly. What can be so hard about following the directions on a box? Somehow, my cakes come out with holes like Swiss cheese, lumpy, bumpy or flat. Some have been burned and some have raw dough in the middle. They usually look like they might fall over.

I would get depressed about it until we cut slices and the kids devoured it all anyway. Then I would forget about it until the next birthday, and tell myself I’ll do better this time.

It’s okay to feel bad about failures, but don’t stay stuck in it. Pity parties usually only have one guest. And the only thing that looks natural wallowing is a pig.

Lesson #4 Choose To Live Free Of Regret 

I spent about two years working in my church’s hospitality ministry. The mission of the hospitality ministry was to help those in the congregation who were dealing with life-changing events: illness, new babies, deaths in the family, etc. The volunteers would take turns delivering meals so the family didn’t have to worry about it for a few days or a few weeks. I know what you’re thinking: Why would you make meals for other people and you can’t cook?

I didn’t want my pre-conceived notions about my cooking skills to hold me back from being a blessing to others. The ministry needed help and I could offer it. No one was knocking down my door demanding I help. I wanted to help so I adapted to the situation. I picked my three best meals and always made one of them.

Don’t let your pre-conceived notions of whether you might fail keep you from reaching for new opportunities. Live regret free. Regret is the bondage of missed opportunity. Regret is the enemy of hope and the torture of what we might have done.

Lesson #5 Be Humble And Teachable

Pumpkin bread, one of my few 'always good' foods.

I went through a healthy-from-scratch phase where I decided I was going to make my own bread. This was before the age of cool bread-making machines. No matter what recipe I followed I couldn’t get it right. Most loaves I could have painted and made into doorstops.

One holiday I asked my grandmother if she could teach me her secret. She showed me all her steps, the same steps I followed many times before. She treated the dough differently, something they didn’t mention in recipes. She was gentle and patient with it and coaxed out of it a wonderfully perfect work of bread-y art. I realized I needed some finesse to my techniques.

I never have become a bread master, but my loaves turned out at least edible after that. Be humble and realize there is always someone better than you. Be willing to learn from them and you’ll continue to get better.

Lesson #6 Play To Your Strengths

Keeper Hubby always gets really excited when I announce I’m making quesadillas for dinner. He says I’ve perfected them and they taste just like his stepmom used to make. Her mother owned a popular restaurant in Mexico City where she learned all her cooking secrets, so I must be doing something right. It helps me to know I have had some successes when I have yet another epic fail, like last week when I made chicken and dumplings. I could have switched the dumplings out with the golf balls on the course near here and no one would know the difference.

Shore up your strengths and focus on them, so when you do have a failure it’s not as devastating. Don’t let negativity magnify the failures and minimize the successes. There ARE things you do well.

Lesson #7 Persevere

I love ethnic foods and am always trying new recipes. Most don’t get added to the dinner line-up (“Please, Mom, don’t make curried tofu ever again.”) but once in a while I strike gold. I tried a recipe for moussaka and the family ooh-ed and ahh-ed over it. “Ground lamb, cinnamon and oregano? Sounds weird, but it tastes good.” Now Keeper Hubby regularly asks for it. I wouldn’t have discovered it if I hadn’t kept trying and experimenting.

Continue to try, to stretch yourself. The only real failure is when you quit.

Lesson #8 Keep Your Humor About It All 

Each autumn we look forward to spaghetti squash. You cook the squash whole in the microwave, and when you crack it open, the squash is stringy like spaghetti. You can put a good marinara sauce on it with some cheese and yum! Of course, when cooking in the microwave you must remember to poke a few holes in the skin. If not, you get to hear what you think is a sonic boom and when you come running into the kitchen you will see this:

After I get my hands on a spaghetti squash

The squash exploded, blew the microwave door open and some pieces flew out about 5 feet into the kitchen. It just so happened that Pinkerton had snuck up into the kitchen sink at the very moment of the blast and he left a trail of knocked about dishes in his wake as he high-tailed it out of there. Keeper Hubby and I laughed our heads off. Sure, dinner was ruined, but it was a great story and that cat has never got up in the sink since.

Sometimes things will blow up in your face. You just have to look at the absurdity and laugh. It’s better than crying.

Every time you put words on paper, you risk failure. Every time you submit a story, every idea you create, every blog post you publish. You risk failure. Risk doesn’t mean just putting a bunch of stuff together and throwing it out there for the sake of saying you did it. There is no risk in doing things half-ass, because you already know you can do better. The risk is in giving it 110% because if you do, and fail, what more do you have to give?

Risk is inherent if you want to reach any goal. You may fail on the way, but fail with grace. You’ll be failing forward, which is not really failing at all. It’s just another step on the road to success.

Want some advice on failing well? Check out these links:

Question: What’s the best lesson you learned from a failure?

10 thoughts on “Start Your Week Off Write: 8 Lessons on Learning to Fail with Grace

  1. valerie gawthrop

    Great Blog! I also cook spaghetti squash in the microwave but I cut it in half first a scrape out the seeds. Never had it explode. Maybe it would teach my cats a lesson if it did but probably not.

    Like

  2. First things first. Poor Pinkerton!

    All your points are well taken and should be read by every person who wants to be a writer. Failure in this industry has taught me a lot but only when I was willing to listen to lesson. Looking back on some of the things I’ve written, I’m glad they were rejected.

    Like

    • Sometimes failing protects us from ourselves, if we will only pay attention. For some reason, I have this uncanny ability to overlook most of the unwise things I do until they knock me on the head or kick me in the keester. It must be a gift or something. :)

      Like

  3. Great post,Kristin! Just had a ummm …let’s call it a discussion…with someone about this topic this weekend. She couldn’t admit her own failures without blaming someone else. So sad to see. Because you’re right. Facing our failures and learning from them is the only way to grow and succeed. I love your sense of humor. Have a great week! :-)

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  4. My first cooking failure was using self-rising flour when making gravy It GREW, spilled over the sauce pan and made a huge mess. I’ve made tons of mistakes as a writer but the only ones I regret are the times that I quit writing. You can’t learn anything from quitting.
    Really nice post!

    Like

  5. Pingback: Write Anywhere #49 | kristin nador writes anywhere

  6. Pingback: For The Love of … Food: Top Ten Food Adventures | kristin nador writes anywhere

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