even in defeat, there’s a valuable lesson learned so it evens up for me

A line from Mad Men will always stick out to me. Don Draper asks an interviewee, “Have you ever been fired?”

My life, like all of us, has been riddled with failures. I think one of the most fortunate failures God used to really wake me up and make me who I am was my failure to graduate on time. It was embarrassing—all my life I was a little above average. I did just enough to be better than the next guy just so that I could say I was. But now I wasn’t even able to graduate the least rigorous school in America. Most of my friends were gone. I was the only one out of my friends paying his own way through college and I was the one who didn’t graduate, accumulating more debt along the way. I had built a grand reputation as a heavy drinker and the least of the professing Christians. I was a walking oxymoron—an embarrassment to myself.

But this failure didn’t make me mope for long. I was able to see this semester as an opportunity. I was broke and hadn’t much to boast about. I slept on a friend’s floor everyday. Sometimes I had to squat at another friend’s place if that friend was being too loud or had people over. It was me, my sleeping bag, and a Knicks Snuggie my sister had gotten me. It put life in perspective for me. People all around the world would do almost anything to go to bed like I did every night. Sleeping on the floor was easy.

That last semester was dedicated to building a work ethic. I would wake up at 6 am every morning, eat a light breakfast, sprint a mile or so uphill before hitting the gym, work out, come back, shower, and walk a few miles to campus. I would pray for a little and read the news, blogs, and everything I could get my hands on. I had scheduled all my classes in the afternoon so that I could do all this even if I were running late. I refrained from going to parties and would only occasionally go out for beers with close friends who stayed in college as well.

It was a very humbling and sobering experience for me. My relationship with my mother and my sister got tremendously better. My outlook on life is much more positive. My priorities were (still are) straightened out. I am so hungry now to make up for lost time and make the most of every second after that. Failure is to be embraced. Failure is to be learned from.

It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention. - Conan O’Brien

Where have you failed?