When I was in eighth grade I won the local science fair with my project Sliding Friction. I felt we hadn’t effectively used the scientific method in our classroom lab, so I redesigned the experiment to show how weight, surface area, and incline affect friction.
People tell stories of very fancy equipment and high level experiments in science fairs, but what made me a winner is that I did each run 5 times, eliminated the highest and lowest readings, and graphed the results.
I felt like a huge success. Later I realized that it was even a bigger win—eighth graders competed with grades 8 through 12. I had won against students who had much more science education than me.
And I never entered another science fair.
Sometimes success is the hardest thing to overcome.
When your science fair project doesn’t win, we don’t call that a failure, although as a very competitive kid, I perhaps treated it as such. Every year I had entered, looked for the winning projects and asked, how could I do better. What would be the steps to making a better project?
I checked out the notebook, and the display, and even what topics people chose for their winning projects. I asked “what is it that makes this a winner?” Each year I used my loss, my non-win, as an opportunity to learn.
What was there to do with my win? How could I ever come up with an idea that was as good? How could I ever develop a project that compared.
Race ahead to 2019. Over the previous year I worked my way up from walking a mile or two at 20 minutes per mile, to the end of September when I walked 14 miles at 18 minutes per mile.
I was a walking machine! I got up at 5 in the morning for that 14 mile walk, but even more significantly, every week I got up 2 or 3 times a week to walk—2 to 3 miles on weekdays, and increasingly longer distances on Saturdays. When I started, my first 5K in under an hour was a huge success. I built up to 7 miles, 10 miles, 12 miles, and then 14. When my knee hurt I went to physical therapy, and unlike any other time in my life I did every exercise as directed, every day.
I took part in a half marathon, celebrated with friends.
And then I didn’t walk again. I didn’t do the short week day walks, and I didn’t do the longer weekend walks. My spreadsheet with times sits un-updated. I was proud of my success, but why couldn’t I keep going?
In 2010 I decided I wanted to write a book. I started writing every day, with the idea that to be a writer I must spend my time writing. I enrolled in a PhD program, dropped out, found a Dmin program, wrote a thesis, took a writing course, wrote a book proposal, and in March of 2020 my book came out. I just kept doing whatever needed to be done to be the author of a published book.
As part of my book proposal I suggested that I would write a weekly blog with additional stories from my research. I suggested that I would write articles in scholarly journals supporting the research in my book. I imagined that I’d keep writing.
But I did not. Once the book came out I’ve never successfully written for even two days in a row. I write a blog post here and there, but I never get back into the mode of prioritizing writing as an integral part of my life.
It seems like my life’s successes have all been the cause of, or at least the precursor to, continued failure. What do you think?
For my organized thoughts, see my book Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Volunteers: Developing Relational Food Ministries. In this spot are thoughts that appear for a moment--about food programs, mission, church, building community, writing, and whatever else pops into my head.