The Scars of the Past
Earlier this week, I wrote about 500 or so words on my practice of focusing on the moments in our days as a way to create energy, ideas and pleasure. But, I accidentally deleted it. Yes, in a moment, it was gone.
Over the past several years I have spent a lot of time researching and exploring failure. You could say that I was employing an experiential style of research on failure for most of my life.
In fact, my oldest scar, which sits on the pad of the index finger of my left hand was my first data point.
I had just learned to walk and was stumbling around our small house in Fort Collins, Colorado. My mom, an unabashed hippie, had probably just finished making my macrobiotic lunch and had started to sew some (very hip, I’m sure) baby overalls. This being before lasers and Walmart, she was using a Singer sowing machine with a foot pedal and belt on the outside of the machine. Think Little House on the Praire style. (To make this hippie hick story even worse, at the time my father had a job miking and delivering goat’s milk. Yes. Capital H hippies.)
As the story goes, I wandered over to see what my mom was doing, and with quizzical eyes reached up and touched the moving belt.
Pretty sure my mom screamed before I did. And as blood exploded out of my fingertip I can remember my mom freaking out, snatching me up and running to the bathroom to run my finger under some water stopping the bleeding.
(Yes, I was less than two years old, so I am making up most of these memories, but I do know that my mom has special mom powers which have been in full glory for years.)
Years later, now living in Mountain View, California, I was thirteen or fourteen and a pretty good soccer goalie (and defender). It was during a season that my father coached us, and we were doing alright.
On this particular day, I was watching the burners on the top of the stove turn from hot red to complete black with a simple turn of a dial. Red. Black. Red. Black. Red. Black.
I remember thinking to myself, I wonder if the burner is cold to the touch by the time it gets black. So I turned the burner on full Red.
And then turned it off. and waited. Black.
In retrospect, I would have probably tried to use a paper towel or something, but at the time, my hand was the only testing implement I had available. Black. Hand on burner. Seconds passed. Strange smell started to come from my hand. I believe it was the smell of burning flesh.
Oh shit, that really hurt. And, for the record, Recently Black on the burner is not cold to the touch. Just in case you were wondering.
I still carry a scar from that third degree burn on my left wrist, now situated between two tattoos.
How do these stories of self-mutilation matter?
Because failure cannot be understood if you don’t experience it. And not in a “shoot, I got an A-” kinda way, but in a “I will carry the scar forever” kinda way.
What I have learned over the years both experiencing and researching failure is that the act of failure has no consequence, its the reaction to failure that has real weight.
I will never again touch a moving belt or a semi-hot burner, but the lesson that I survived the pain or the embarrassment. Just like shutting the doors on my first company or losing an investment has not scared me away from startup land.
We pay a real disservice to each other by dealing and discussing failure so flippantly. Failure has real gravitas, it can change how someone lives their life drastically. Yet, we love the rags to riches story. The Hollywood comeback.
We talk about supporting founders who are struggling and, perhaps, headed towards failure, but in truth, we prop up the apparent winners and let the losers slink out to the forest and die.
Failure isn’t the end. It’s a painful, shitty process, but its just that. A step.
When I got sober, a friend of mine said to me that the hardest part of sobriety wasn’t being around alcohol and drugs, but forgetting the bad times. For that which we forget, we are doomed to repeat.
Every day, I look at my left hand with its jagged scar on the index finger and burn mark on my left wrist sitting between two tattoos, and smile.