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If at first you don’t succeed…

May 7, 2012

‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’

Apparently this little phrase came from some old teaching manual. I don’t know if its advice for a teacher to give her students, or advice for the teacher who finds himself overwhelmed with a classroom full of wild teenagers a la the big city modern savagery we saw in Blackboard Jungle in order to encourage himself not to quit teaching?

Why do they tell you to keep trying if you don’t succeed at first? Isn’t that simply asking for trouble by inviting the potential for more failure like this example between Henry and his father shows?

“Hey, Henry, what’s wrong? Why such a long face?”

“Oh, no reason, pop. It’s just I’ve been trying to get this model rocket’s engine to fire for my science project and I can’t get it to work.”

“Hmm, you’ve been working on that for a few weeks now, haven’t you?”

“Sure have, pop. But I’m not gonna let a science project beat me! I’m gonna stick to it until I get it.”

“Come here, son, and listen to me. Science is a load of crap and once you’re out of school you’re never going to need to know anything about it again. It’s a lot like math and English in that way. See, these teachers, they really  have nothing better to do, so they tell you this stuff is important when it’s really not. It’s really all bullshit.”

“Pop, you swore!”

“Don’t mind that, Henry, I’m trying to make a point. Just don’t tell your mom. Now don’t you really think that failing for three weeks is enough?”


“Son. Now you don’t want to be a sissy like the Wilburn boy, do you?”


“Well that’s exactly what you’re going to be if you keep failing at this crap.”


“Henry, did you hear anything I said?”

“Yeah, but…”


“Yeah, pop?”

“Why don’t you go inside and watch TV until your mother gets home?”

Disturbing, huh? Or how about this unfortunate example between Billy and his mother?

“Billy, what are you doing?”

“Oh, hi mom! I’m trying again to build this kite.”

“But haven’t you failed building that kite a bunch of times already?”

“Yeah, but…”

“But what?”

“Well, my teacher said, ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’ And I’m just listening to her advice.”

“Your teacher? Miss Hufpence?”

“Mm hmm.”

“I don’t want you listening to her, Billy.”

“But mom…”

“No buts, Billy. You’re not to listen to her. She’s a socialist.”

“A what?”

“Never mind, you’re too young. Billy, she drives a hybrid car and drinks water out of a nalgene bottle, she recycles and she has an “Obama” bumper sticker on her car, she’s been seen shopping at the co-op and she eats granola.”

“And that makes her a sosha… that thing you called her?”

“Yes, Billy, and probably worse. Probably much, much worse.”

“So what should I do then if I’m not going to try again?”

“I don’t know, Billy. You’re a big boy, can’t you figure these things out for yourself?

“Well, I sorta like trying to get the kite to fly. It’s fun and…”

“Stop with that nonsense already.”


“Billy, why don’t you go to the living room and watch television until your father gets home?

“Okay, mom.”

Poor Henry and poor Billy. But who cares about either of them anyway? The bottom line is that trying something you’ve failed at over and over again is potentially a recipe for low self-esteem, becoming a sissy like that Wilburn boy, or worse: it could be a sign of insanity.

And what happens if, by chance, you happen to succeed the first time, then what do you do? Boast about it to your friends? Quit and try something different altogether until you finally find something you can fail at just so you can try and try again? With all that failure and all that trying and trying and trying again, we’ll never get anywhere.

Or maybe not?

Finally –

“The man who achieves makes many mistakes, but he never makes the biggest mistake of all – doing nothing” – Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father of the United States, scientist, inventor, printer, writer, irritating optimist, pollyanna, Minnesota Twins fan.



2 Comments leave one →
  1. Brandon Scott permalink
    May 7, 2012 11:23 am

    Henry’s dad and Billy’s mom sound like terrible parents. “Doing nothing” would have been a huge success for them in the reproduction department. Take that Ben Franklin!


  2. May 7, 2012 5:22 pm

    I’m finally catching up again on blog posts. Thanks for your patience! 🙂


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