Failure Is a Good Thing San Francisco Chronicle newspaper columnist Jon Carroll says success is overrated. He believes failure is how we learn, giving us the opportunity to stretch ourselves and experience new things.
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Failure Is a Good Thing

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Failure Is a Good Thing

Failure Is a Good Thing

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Unidentified Man #1: I believe in honor, faith, and service.

Unidentified Woman #1: I believe that a little outrage...

Unidentified Man #2: I believe in freedom of speech.

Unidentified Woman #2: I believe in empathy.

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in truth.

Unidentified Woman #3: I believe in the ingredients of love.

JAY ALLISON: This I believe.


On Mondays we bring you our series, THIS I BELIEVE. And this morning we'll hear the beliefs of Jon Carroll, who's been a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle for almost 25 years. That's a lot of daily deadlines to meet, but he holds a belief that gets him through.

Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

ALLISON: People often rely on personal beliefs that help them toward their goals. They want to be better people, to serve others, to live successfully.

But Jon Carroll's belief is not so much concerned with success, in fact, quite the opposite. Here he is with his essay for THIS I BELIEVE.

Mr. JON CARROLL (Columnist, San Francisco Chronicle): Last week, my granddaughter started kindergarten, and as is conventional, I wished her success. I was lying.

What I actually wish for her is failure. I believe in the power of failure. Success is boring. Success is proving that you can do something that you already know you can do, or doing something correctly for the first time, which can often be a problematical victory.

First time success is usually a fluke. First time failure, by contrast, is expected. It is the natural order of things. Failure is how we learn.

I have been told of an African phrase describing a good cook as, she who has broken many pots. If you spend enough time in the kitchen to have broken a lot of pots, probably you know a fair amount about cooking. I once had a late dinner with a group of chefs, and they spent time comparing knife wounds and burn scars. They knew how much credibility their failures gave them.

I earn my living by writing a daily newspaper column. Each week, I am aware that one column is going to be the worst column of the week. I don't set out to write it, I try my best every day. Still, every week, one column is inferior to all the others - sometimes spectacularly so. I have learned to cherish that column. A successful column usually means I am treading on familiar ground, going with the tricks that work, preaching to the choir or dressing up popular sentiments in fancy words. Often in my inferior columns, I'm trying to pull off something I've never done before, something I'm not even sure can be done.

My younger daughter is a trapeze artist. She spent three years putting together an act. She did it successfully for a decade with the Cirque du Soleil. There was no reason for her to change the act, but she did anyway. She said she was no longer learning anything new, and she was bored. And if she was bored, there was no point in subjecting her body to all that stress.

So she changed the act. She risked failure and profound public embarrassment in order to feed her soul. And if she can do that, fifteen feet in the air, we should all be able to do it.

My granddaughter is a perfectionist - probably too much of one. She will feel her failures and I will want to comfort her. But I will also, I hope, remind her of what she learned and how she can do whatever it is better next time.

I probably won't tell her that failure is a good thing, because that's not a lesson you can learn when you're five. I hope I can tell her, though, that it's not the end of the world. Indeed, with luck, it is the beginning.

ALLISON: Jon Carroll, with his essay for THIS I BELIEVE.

Over 15,000 of you have now submitted essays for our series, and we have just made all of them available online. To browse or search through these essays, or to submit one of your own, visit our Web site at

For THIS I BELIEVE, I'm Jay Allison.

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