What 5 Epic Fails Taught Me 


By Damon Toney
September/October 2015

When the Wright Brothers succeed in building their flying machine, most people focused on the success, but they experimented for nearly three years before their first flight. Study history and you'll find far more failures than successes.

Failure has it's purpose. Many give up on life not knowing that the continuing forward through the failures is what reveals success. Here are a few situations from my own life both past and present as cases-in-point.

Boat Capsized

I worked an entire year to save $599 to buy a 12 foot jon boat on a Father's Day sale, my first boat. It had beautiful lines. Amid ships was wider than the transom and the bow. That formed a slight continuous curve at the gunnels over the length of the craft, about as elegant as you could get for a humble jon.

A 30 lbs thrust trolling motor and a group 27 deep-cycle battery served as primary power, no gas motor.

On the second trip a strong wind blew from the west. Wind blows opposite the current on the Black Warrior River, making for turbulent water. As I launched the boat the rough the water tossed that little boat as if they were playing catch. It was beyond what the boat could handle and far beyond my skill as well.

Once out and well beyond the boat landing, I had not connected the trolling motor to the battery. I stood up, moved to the rear bench, and sat on the port side.

It happened. Flat bottomed boats are poor in secondary stability. Several waves tilted the boat beyond it's initial stability. Given that I had sat off center the waves provided the extra inertia. The boat capsized.

Cold spring water engulfed my body. It had been a long time since had gone for a swim. The life jacket kept me afloat. The rough water scared me and only moments before had I put it on. If not I may have drowned.

A boater saw my troubles and helped me. I went home and stayed there for the rest of the day.

Miller's Ferry Dam

Ferries used to pepper many rivers here in the southeast before modern dams and bridges were built. Miller's Ferry is a popular fishing spot in the summers. Lots of fish, current and danger.

My earliest memory in life: a fishing trip below Miller's Ferry dam. We were fishing from the bank. Honestly all I remember is being in water well over my head looking back at the bank. Mom says a family friend dove in and saved me. Well, I'm still here, so I guess I didn't drown!

Haunting place that is, Miller's Ferry Dam.

Miller's Ferry Dam II

Another time dad took several friends and me on a fishing trip below Miller's Ferry dam in his old tri-hull boat with a 100 horsepower Mercury outboard. He loved that thing, lots of power. Too bad it wasn't reliable, piece of junk really.

As with many damed rivers, barge traffic moved up and down, in and out of the lock to get up and down stream, mostly hauling coal for the steel industry. If a barge was coming downstream from the upper part of the lake/river, it entered the lock from the upstream side. The lock then discharged water so the barge could continue on its downstream journey.

Barges displace lots of water, and the lock releases lots of water. This means changes in water levels and current in addition to the massive current produced by the spillway and hydroelectric turbines.

This is how it happened:

We anchored several hundred yards below the spillway, but after a few minutes the dam looked a little bigger.

"We are moving. We are moving. We are moving! We are moving! We are moving!”

“Why do you keep saying that?”

“Cause I hope you would get off your 'rear ends' and re-anchor the boat!”

By this time we were too close. The current began to pick up speed. Dad fired the motor. It wouldn't crank. The spillway churned the water forming a back eddie drawing us closer to it. Dams are dangerous, and rickety motors make for a quick way to die.

Fortunately another boat saw out troubles and risked everything. He pulled in, threw us a rope, and hauled us out.

Boat Building Projects Trashed

Okay, let's fast forward to something less life threating. Needless to say those early experiences left an impression: I took up boat building. The first craft was a humble three-planked swamp canoe called pirogue. That was a success, but as time went on, I needed to cover greater distances than I could paddle, so I began to think about a gas-powered boat.

Being a do-it-yourselfer, boat building seemed the next logical step for me. After the pirogue guess how many boats I built? Zero. Two power skiffs and one failed stand-up paddleboard later, they still sit on the east end of the yard as food for worms.

Rod Building Attempts Unfinished

Although I have built several rods, the first one still isn't finished. It was a 6 foot fiberglass fly rod to catching bluegill and panfish. I couldn't figure out how to wrap the thread. I see the rod sitting here now unfinished with little motivation to complete.

However I did learn fly tying around that time. After tying hundreds of flies, the basic thread wrapping techniques directly applied to rod building. As such I've built several rods, yet that first one still sits.

2015 Summer of the Catfish Bust

I haven't caught a single catfish this summer. Catfish angling usually goes will in the summers, but not this summer. It's funny that only a year ago I designed a whole new fishing float specifically for the needs of channel catfish anglers.

The difficulty: There is so much water it's hard to tell where to start, where they are, or what they're doing. The answer? Study. I started reading every book on catfish angling I could find. This was a much needed step: to learn the patterns, behavior, ecology and biology of the river, fish and forage.

If I had been successful, I wouldn't have spent all summer studying. Now I'm better prepared. This also gave me time to better rig my boat and experiment with various fishing rigs and other methods learned in the texts. Without a needed to learn, most of us won't learn or change. This leads to the true purpose of “failure.”

Lessons Learned in Failing Epically

Note how the first examples were life threating. In each case there was a deliverer: someone appointed to pull me out of a situation that would have lead to death. As the psalmist said, “Make haste, O God, to deliver me! O LORD, make haste to help me!” (Psalm 70:1 ESV) As you fail learn to cry out to God. He's there.

How many times was David on-the-run, hiding in caves and towns, scared for his life? Read the Davidic psalms, especially the first book of psalms. God was at work developing a king to lead God's people. Yes, bigger things were going on, but in the moment, God met David. The same for us: God will meet us and shows us how to cry out to him, even though bigger things are happening.

This doesn't mean that God is some lucky charm who is there to provide for every want or fancy or alleviate all discomfort. It simply means God know what you're going through because he went through it himself in Christ, and that he wants you to cry out to him. Again he shows us how in the psalms.

Every human, emotional state is addressed in the psalms. God shows us how to process these emotions in light of his glory and the bigger picture of his good pleasure without neglecting the pain of the moment.

The rest of the examples were all failed attempts when learning something new. Frustrating. Learning new things is a part of growing in wisdom. Solomon said, “Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles.” (Proverbs 1:5-6 ESV)

We have an entire universe to explore. Some environments require new skills and methods. An unfinished project can be sign of growth, that other things need to be mastered first.

Such things are not setbacks. They are classes, courses and instructional guides to help us decide what path to take. Some things can only be learn via experimentation. For instance the Wright Brothers: There was no flight manual in those days. They had to develop one. What's more they had to develop a flying machine.

In fact much of the Wright Brother's early data came from failed experiments of other scientists and inventors in the field of aeronautical research. These failed experiments keep the Wright Brothers from going down rabbit trails that had already proven to be dead ends. In other words other people's failures led and directed the brothers to a path that lead to success.

Whenever you try a new activity and it doesn't work out, it's okay. Count it as part of your education and training for your life purpose. Keep going. Learn whatever you need, and keep going.

Always remember that Christ is working.

Good times, tight lines!

Damon Toney

About the Author

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  • Damon_Toney's picture

    Damon is the Chief Pencil Pusher at Black Warrior Lures where he designs, tests and makes custom fishing tackle for catfish anglers along the Black Warrior River. If you'd like to try one of his fishing floats, use the following coupon code: “SHOUT!Floats!” to get one fishing float. See terms and conditions on the page. Check him out on YouTube: Black Warrior Lures

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