On Failure: On Being a Screw-Up

Broken egg“He’s a screw-up. Always trying things that don’t work.”

I’ll be honest: I used to be afraid of being the person described above. I didn’t want to be known as someone whose ideas didn’t work. And to that end, I was successful: most of what I tried was successful. The bad news was that I wasn’t doing much. I was too afraid to take big risks for fear of being branded a screw-up.

Being a Screw-Up

Trying things that don’t work does not make you a failure. In fact, just the opposite: you’re more likely to find success if you do allow yourself to take risks, to make mistakes, and to learn from them.

I came across a quote from my friend Brent Ozar that succinctly covers this:


This is a lesson I’m still learning. Allow yourself to try things that may fail, and even if they do, you’ll have learned something in the process.

That’s not being a screw-up. That’s gaining valuable experience.

About the Author

Tim Mitchell
Tim Mitchell is a data architect and consultant who specializes in getting rid of data pain points. Need help with data warehousing, ETL, reporting, or training? If so, contact Tim for a no-obligation 30-minute chat.

7 Comments on "On Failure: On Being a Screw-Up"

  1. Good post! If all you’re doing is following checklists, you’re not going to get anywhere.

  2. If you like Edgard Alan Poe, then you will probably love Charles Beaudelaire. He wrote a poem about traveling that express pretty much the feeling that we get when we innovate at greater risk for our career.

    Le voyage: http://fleursdumal.org/poem/231
    “One morning we set out, our brains aflame,
    Our hearts full of resentment and bitter desires,
    And we go, following the rhythm of the wave,
    Lulling our infinite on the finite of the seas:

    Some, joyful at fleeing a wretched fatherland;
    Others, the horror of their birthplace; a few,
    Astrologers drowned in the eyes of some woman,
    Some tyrannic Circe with dangerous perfumes.

    But the true voyagers are only those who leave
    Just to be leaving; hearts light, like balloons,
    They never turn aside from their fatality
    And without knowing why they always say: “Let’s go!”

    Those whose desires have the form of the clouds,
    And who, as a raw recruit dreams of the cannon,
    Dream of vast voluptuousness, changing and strange,
    Whose name the human mind has never known! ”

    Are you a true voyager?

  3. Eric Notheisen | April 17, 2015 at 6:46 am | Reply

    Thomas Edison was once asked about the 2500 or so failures he had developing the light bulb. His response was,”Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward….

  4. Lincoln is reported to have said “Show me a man who has never failed and I’ll show you a man who has never tried.”

  5. One verse from “The Roses of Success” in the movie “Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang”:

    Disaster didn’t stymie Louis Pasteur! No sir!
    Edison took years to see the light! Right!
    Alexander Graham knew failure well; he took a lot of knocks to ring that bell!
    So when it gets distressing it’s a blessing!
    Onward and upward you must press!
    Yes, Yes!
    Till up from the ashes, up from the ashes grow the roses of success.

    I do my job by going to work, playing with SQL Server and C# in my little sandbox and occasionally something useful pops out. If they measured my performance by the number of projects I’ve tried that never worked out, I wouldn’t have a job.

  6. Always plan to fail. By that, I mean build time for failure into your plans. In the IT world, where every minute must be accounted for and tied to a project code, make sure that there’s time for uncertainty and room to fail.

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