On Becoming a Failure

During my life I have been told: you cannot do this, you cannot do that. Such and such will not work. Nobody does that. Why can’t you do this the way everybody else does it? You will not succeed.

I was once told that I was a failure.

In 1993, I was at the University of California, Berkley, in my last two years of PhD studies. A member of the department was a visiting PhD from abroad – Dr M~. I was 44; he was in his late 20’s or early 30’s. He had never worked outside of academia. He was not an adventurer. My professional career was a color-crazed collage: his was pastel watercolor. But he was a nice enough chap and we became friends. I enjoyed his company and different outlook.

But he suddenly cooled and would not talk to me. I had no idea what brought on his disengagement but his rejection was hurtful. I got over it via the usual path of grief, denial, acceptance; helped by chanting my mantras. Mutual friends eventually told me that Dr. M~ felt that I had never done anything significant with my life and that I was a failure.

In the fullness of time he was proven right: I became a Failure.

In 1995, I joined the world famous consultancy of Failure Analysis Associates (now Exponent ) in Menlo Park, California. The firm enticed me, and I was forced to choose between a starting position at Failure Analysis and positions at Principal Engineer rank offered by two other firms. I chose Failure Analysis partly because I was enchanted by their video editing suite – any engineering and science consultancy that had a sofa-equipped high tech video and photography facility was going to be a cool place to work. They also had shining clean bathrooms – one of my a job choice criteria. And of course they had superb reputations at failure investigation, an area that intrigued me. Failure Analysis Associates staff were/are an eclectic, multi-disciplinary melange of disciplines, with many eccentric, arrogant, brilliant engineers and scientists. It was a perfect place for an oddity such as myself.

When I decided to accept the job at Failure Analysis Associates, some staff in the Human Resources department celebrated my decision by standing around me and chanting “You’re a Failure!!. You’re a Failure!!” Which, of course, was their acknowledgment that I had succeeded at getting a job at a firm that had extraordinarily high standards for recruitment. (I know that because in the next 10 years I helped to hire 29 people for the firm).

I succeeded as a Failure, becoming a Principal before I left the firm in 2005.

See: Dr. M~ was eventually proven right, after all.

About Ed Medley

Ed Medley has been on a random walk for over 40 years. Many scribbles and snapshots at this site are from his vagabond transits; others are from his 40 years of international experience in geological and geotechnical engineering, academia, and mineral exploration prospecting.
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