Henrylito D. Tacio
Mr. Tacio, who hails from Davao, is a correspondent of the Asian edition of Reader’s Digest. He is the first and only Filipino journalist to have been elevated to the Hall of Fame in science reporting by the Philippine Press Institute. In 1999, the Rotary Club of Manila bestowed him the Journalist of the Year award. He is also East Asia’s contributing editor of the People & the Planet based in London.
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THOMAS Alva Edison was perhaps the greatest inventor in history with over 1,000 patents issued to his name. He changed the lives of millions of people through such inventions as the electric light and phonograph. His statement, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” is one of the most often-quoted lines.
Perhaps it may come to you as a surprise that this American inventor had only three months of formal schooling. History records show that he knew more failures than successes. For 13 months, Edison kept on searching for a filament that would stand the stress of electric current. As he pondered whether he would be able to discover the elusive thing, he got a note from people backing his experiment that they would no longer be giving additional funds for what he was then doing.
News like that may bring a person to quit, but not Edison. In fact, it did not deter him from continuing his work. He refused to admit defeat and worked without sleep for two more days and nights. Eventually, he managed to insert one of the crude carbonized threads into a vacuum-sealed bulb. “When we turned on the current,” he recalled, “the sight we had so long desired finally met our eyes!”
Before that, however, Edison had to endure a string of failures. “What a waste! We have tried no less than 700 experiments and nothing has worked. We are not a bit better off than when we started,” a couple of men who were working alongside him said. He just shrugged this comment, telling them, “Oh yes, we are! We now know 700 things that won’t work. We’re closer than we’ve ever been before.”
Perhaps one person who is very familiar with failure was Milton. At age 19, he started his own confectionery business in Philadelphia. He worked so hard for six years, but the business did not do well that he had to give it up. He moved to Denver to work for another candy company. Later on, Milton and his father started a candy company in Chicago – which failed. They went to New Orleans, where another venture failed. New York was next, and it, too, was a failure. But with so many failures behind him, he pressed on. After all, he said, he learned so many things from his mistakes. “Failure is not fatal,” he told himself.
Milton, who treated obstacles as stepping stones instead of stumbling block, kept on learning about the confectionery trade, picking up many tricks and inventing new ones by constantly experimenting with formulas and processes. He began anew, opening the Lancaster Carmel Company in Pennsylvania in time for the Christmas trade. It was a success! When he died in 1945, Milton Snavely Hershey was known throughout the world as the man who created Hershey’s Milk Chocolate.
But Milton was just one of the world’s most outstanding failures. There was this American guy who failed in business in 1831. In 1832, he ran for government office but emerged a loser. In 1833, he again failed in business. In 1834, he was elected to the Legislature. In 1838, he was defeated for Speaker; in 1840 defeated for Elector; in 1843 defeated for Congress; in 1846 elected to Congress; in 1855 defeated for Senate; in 1856 defeated for Vice-President; in 1858 defeated for Senate; in 1860 elected to President of the United States. His name? Abraham Lincoln.
An unknown poet says it well: “When things go wrong as they sometimes will, when the road you’re trudging seems all uphill, when the funds are low and the debts are high, and you want to smile, but you have to sigh.”
“Rest if you must, but don’t you quit,” the poet continues. “Life is queer with is twists and turns, as every one of us sometimes learns, and many a failure turns about when he might have won had he stuck it out.”
The magic word here is persistence. That’s what Edison, Hershey, and Lincoln possessed. “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence,” declared American president Calvin Coolidge. “Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of human race.”
American author James Michener believed on this, too. He was told that if he had not published a book by age 35, chances were that he never would. He was nearing 40, and he kept hearing that for every book published, there were 95 manuscript collecting dust. His friends advised him to change the plot of his stories since they were not popular and that they were not considered worthy of the top literary prizes. Hollywood would not consider his stories since they held no dramatic possibilities.
But Michener stuck it out. When Tales of the South Pacific was finally published in 1947, critics raved and literary figures awarded it with a Pulitzer Prize. When Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammersteind transformed it into a Broadway musical called South Pacific, people fall in line to see it.
“Many people fail in life because they believe in the adage: If you don’t succeed, try something else,” American author Don B. Owens, Jr. observed. “But success eludes those who follow such advice. Virtually everyone has had dreams at one time or another, especially in youth. The dreams that have come true did so because people stuck to their ambitions. They refused to be discouraged. They never let disappointment get the upper hand. Challenges only spurred them on to greater effort.”
The words of William A. Ward come in handy. “From failure can come valuable experience; from experience – wisdom; from wisdom – mutual trust; from mutual trust – cooperation; from cooperation – united effort; from united effort – success.”
“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed,” black American educator Booker T. Washington once pointed out.
He was speaking from experience. Born of a Virginia slave family, he was chosen in 1881 to head a new school for blacks. This he built up from two unequipped buildings to a complex with over 100 buildings and 1,500 students.
To end this piece, allow me to quote the words of British author William Somerset Maugham: “The common idea that success spoils people by making them vain, egotistic, and self-complacent is erroneous; on the contrary, it makes them, for the most part, humble, tolerant, and kind. Failure makes people cruel and bitter.”
“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.” – Calvin Coolidge, American president
“From failure can come valuable experience; from experience – wisdom; from wisdom – mutual trust; from mutual trust – cooperation; from cooperation – united effort; from united effort – success.” – William A. Ward
“The common idea that success spoils people by making them vain, egotistic, and self-complacent is erroneous; on the contrary, it makes them, for the most part, humble, tolerant, and kind. Failure makes people cruel and bitter.” – William Somerset Maugham, British author