How I Failed and Then Made it Worse

I was in my late teens when I failed spectacularly on live television one summer Sunday afternoon in the 1950s. I then made it worse the next morning.

This week, as I wrote up the embarrassing event, I thought about how our society is obsessed with success. We cheer wildly when a player on our team scores, but sigh and groan when he misses.

But Will Rogers, a comedian from an earlier generation, put a different slant on failure. “Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.” In other words, we need experience to succeed, but the way to get experience is to fail.

God wants us to obey Him and get out there to build His kingdom. Achieving or falling short is not as relevant to Him as we think it is. The worst we can do is do nothing. Doing nothing puts us into the class of people that God spits out of His mouth as lukewarm. (Revelation 3:16)

Here’s how I goofed up and the valuable experience it gave me:

TV-cameraIt was our church’s turn to put on a program on the local television station. We had prayed a lot for everything to go well and for God to give us peace and calm our jitters. My part was to sing a bass solo accompanied by the piano. I chose How Great Thou Art, a well-known hymn I had sung before in church. As I confidently walked up to stand in front of the camera, the program director reminded me, “Now remember, this is going out live, so do it right the first time.”

I smiled directly into the camera as the pianist played a few bars of introduction, then started singing right on cue. All went well for the first several verses and choruses, but then, as the pianist played a brief interlude before the last verse, I glanced to one side of the camera and saw a television monitor on the wall with someone’s head looking off to the right. I briefly wondered who that was, then was shocked to realize it was me!

Jack singing1At the same moment, the interlude was over and I opened my mouth to sing the last verse, but nothing came out. I had totally forgotten the words. The pianist played the music for the rest of the verse while I got myself together in time to sing the chorus, “Then sings my soul, my Saviour, God to Thee . . . .”

First lesson from experience: “Have the words nearby when singing or speaking in public . . . just in case.”

At work the next day while digging a ditch for some water pipes, I was still reproaching myself and feeling embarrassed. When the plumber arrived to do the connections, he looked at me carefully and said, “Weren’t you on the church television program yesterday afternoon?”

What I should have said was, “Yes, I was. I’m glad you saw the program. Are you a Christian too?” starting a great conversation. Instead, I foolishly made my failure worse by apologizing to him for forgetting the words and messing up the song, even explaining about the face on the monitor.

He said, “Really? I didn’t notice anything wrong.”

Aaargh! Why did I even mention my blunder?

Second lesson from experience: “When you make a mistake in a public presentation, don’t draw attention to it.”

There are two ways of gaining the experiential knowledge you need to make good decisions.

  1. Make your own mistakes and learn from them.
  2. Learn from the mistakes made by other people. (Feel free to learn from my slip-ups in the above story.)

What early blunders have you made that gave you the experience to live more successfully later?