Sunday, July 22, 2012

Not Zen 15: Failure

A reporter went to interview a man who was widely known to be successful in multiple disciplines - as a banker, as a philosophy teacher, and as a painter.

"Were you talented in school?" the reporter asked him.

"No.  I showed no talent."

The reporter crossed our her next prepared question. After resting a moment with her pencil against her chin, she skipped halfway down her list.

"If you weren't talented ..." she asked, "... how did you get into college?"

"I was rejected every time. I couldn't get admitted in the usual way, so I took a menial job at a university. As part of the job, they offered me free classes. I took them and learned what I could."

"Did you get your degree in art? Or in finance?"

"I got a degree in philosophy."

"That's pretty widely regarded as useless. How did you become successful at banking?"

"At first, I was a terrible failure. You're right that I wasn't prepared. I didn't understand banks. But from my failures, I learned. Soon, I was a good assistant manager. And because I was young, I thought I could start my own bank."

"And you did!"

"Yes. Now I've applied the same lessons to painting, which is apparently why you are here. As I said, I showed no talent as an artist. I made many bad paintings at first."

"If that's true, why did you keep on painting?"

"Art is easier than banking. You can make mistakes and still produce a worthwhile picture. I took pleasure in being allowed to do things the wrong way. I had fun with mistakes. That's why I became a better artist."

"What about this one?" The reporter turned to the wall of the studio. She pointed to a ink drawing of an apple. "It's perfect. No mistakes. All the lines are exactly right."

"That one started out as a picture of an orange." The philosopher shook his head. "Only when I realized that it had gone wrong did I add some reflections and a stem."

"Are you serious?"

"The only real mistakes we make, I now believe, are in not profiting from our earlier mistakes."

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