“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” ― Winston S. Churchill
I just read a short story about the Wright Brothers, and what struck me was how many years they stumbled from failure to failure. We know about their triumph at Kitty Hawk: their origin story of becoming the forefathers of flight. Like most legends, we just know the very end, the success, the kudos and the plane displayed at the National Air and Space Museum. Like most legends, the how, and the years of work, are not emphasized. But they should be. The two brothers spent years patiently experimenting with multiple flights on the dunes, morning after morning. Their only audience was the men at the beach first aid cabin, who every once in a while, lent a hand. Other than that – no attention.
On December 17, 1903, after four years of experimentation, the men achieved lift-off.
In the modern world, the pair would have cut their losses after the first year of difficulties and devoted themselves to expanding their bicycle business. But they did not, they hung in there and did the work. It wasn’t as grim as it sounds. Wilber and Orville were not unhappy during their years of experiments, they were quite engaged because they were failing with enthusiasm.
I know, I just wrote about quitting. Quitting is necessary if you are miserable. But like Wilber and Orville, even if success isn’t immediate, you may not be sad, you may not even care. In fact, you may be increasingly enthusiastic and happy as you inch closer and closer to your goal. The men who serviced the first aid station on the beach didn’t know what the brothers were about, but were happy to help, day after day, week after week, with no sign of the greatness to come. You too may be deeply immersed in a project that from the outside, looks like a series of setbacks, but to you or your team, it’s rather like a series of steps forward, each more informed than the last. You are enthusiastic because what you do brings you joy: simple and powerful.
For a writer, what does inching towards your goal with joy look like?
Interviewing interesting people.
Traveling to exotic locations for research.
Setting your book series in a beautiful place requires many visits for research.
Falling in love with language.
Maintaining your passion for your message and bringing it out to the world.
Loving your team.
Enjoying interacting with your tribes and fans.
Volunteering at local and national conferences.
Speaking at both prestigious and quirky meetings and events. (The quirky ones are more fun).
Strategizing with a partner.
Creating new products from your books and works.
When you love your project and love the work, it doesn’t matter that one morning the whole thing crashes into the sand. You just pick it up, dust it off and start again. Because it’s the work that brings you joy.
Orville and Wilber loved working together. They complimented each other as they worked towards a common goal. Every day was a challenge but every day was fun. Even when a rival flew his plane a longer distance than Wright’s record, they did not panic. The brothers discussed his success, publicly congratulated him, and applied some of his successes to their own next attempt.
When you wake up each morning consumed by thoughts of your next innovation, your next chapter, your next research trip, you have indeed succeeded because your life in interesting, because you are engaged and in your zone. That is a bigger, longer-lasting joy than the finished product. I hope that you wake each morning ready to stumble from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.