It was the 1870's. Somewhere in a workshop in New Jersey, Thomas Alva Edison was burning the midnight oil, trying to create a light bulb.
He tried several experiments - all without success. He just couldn't get it right. His failures became the talk of the town and the story goes that after he had failed for the 500th time, a journalist interviewed him and asked him, "Mr. Edison, how does it feel to have failed 500 times? Why don't you just give up?"
"No, no, young lady," replied Edison. "I haven't failed 500 times. I have just discovered 500 ways it won't work. I am so much closer now to finding a way that will work!"
And sure enough, in 1879, Edison invented the filament light bulb, an invention that changed the world. By the time he died, the 'man-who-failed-500-times' had 1024 patents to his credit, and had founded the iconic General Electric company. But Edison's real contribution to mankind went beyond all this. He showed us the power of perseverance, the virtue of learning from your failures, and the magic of never giving up.
To succeed, one must learn to embrace failure, and not be scared by it. Failure holds valuable lessons for us - if only we are willing to learn. Thomas J Watson, the founder-chairman of IBM offers valuable advice: "If you want to succeed, double your rate of failure." Don't dwell on your failures. Don't play the blame game. Don't doubt your ability. Learn from your mistakes. Re-focus on your goals. And keep going.
Very often, we do all the hard work and when we don't see the desired results, we turn around and walk away - even though we may have been just one step away from success. The problem is, we seldom realize we are just one step away from achieving our goals. In the highway of life, there are no milestones telling us that success is one kilometer ahead. Jacob Riis, a photographer-cum-journalist summed it up well when he said, "When nothing seems to work, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it - but all that had gone before."
The option of turning away and starting a new journey is tempting, because in our minds, it takes away the stigma of failure. When you are not doing well in your job, what seems like the easiest thing to do? Quit, and find another one! When you are banging away at the stone and it doesn't crack, what do you do? Take a shot at another stone. And another. Result? Lots of effort and zero results.
Look at little babies learning to walk. They try and take a few steps, they stumble and fall. Then they stand up and try again. And bang, they fall again. They don't feel embarrassed. They just get up and try again, until, bingo, they can walk! Think about it. If little children were like us grown-ups and gave up after a few failed attempts, we would all have never learnt to walk!
And yet as adults, we forget that lesson. We are scared to take the first steps, because we are scared we might fail. And the first time we taste failure, we give up. A group of school children once asked Sir Winston Churchill what he thought was the secret of success. Churchill's response? Just seven words. "Never give up. Never, never give up!"
That old truism about winners and quitters still holds good. Winners never quit. And quitters never win.
Time then, to adopt the Edison mindset. Fail often, but never lose sight of your goals. Sooner or later, there is bound to be light.