Much to my own regret and inconvenience, I have gotten the bad habit of sleeping late almost every night. I guess I don’t unwind easily. I couldn’t go to bed without doing anything special or outside routine to end the day. Last night wasn’t very much an exception, so I decided to call it a day by reading a book I haven’t opened in ages. I ended up with Hans Christian Andersen’s collection of fairy tales and read “The Teapot”, which was one of the shortest stories in the book.
Well, thank goodness it wasn’t depressing like “The Little Mermaid” (remember that Disney changed the ending) or “The Little Match Girl”. “The Teapot” was a very simple story. Still, it made me think deeply about my experiences with failure.
To date, there are two most memorable episodes of failure in my relatively recent past, which I look back to as turning points. The first was in high school, when I didn’t make it to the finals of an oratorical contest sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce. The second, was in college four years later, when I lost the student council election by a mere 12 votes.
Of course there I had an hour or two of initial sadness. But this was not the case with my parents.
When I arrived at the house, we celebrated my failure. My parents ordered food — pancit, fried chicken, the works! For in the end, as they’ve instilled in me, winning isn’t about scoring the most points with the judges or getting the most points. Real victory is when one becomes a better person in the process of trying. Real victory is learning from lessons. Real victory is moving to greater heights after what initially seems as humiliating defeat. This may be cliche or even corny, but it is true. The real victory is in daring to achieve and challenge one’s boundaries.
When I gave an acceptance speech for an award I received nine years ago, I thanked my parents for their two most important gifts: my education; and allowing me to fail so many times, so that after every fall, I could get up on my own as a better person. Nine years later, I realize I feel more strongly about this.
Still, true enough, there was life after each failure, and it turned out there were greater things in store. While I lost the council elections, I gained very good, life-long friends from the campaign, and we founded the UP Communicators for Good Governance, whose mision and vision continue to this very day. I may have only reached the semi-finals in the oratorical contest that I joined in ’98. But before I decided to take the leap of faith to join the contest, I couldn’t stand up in front of a crowd and deliver a straight, eight-minute, memorized speech in English! I didn’t even speak English that fluently in ’98! My plans failed. But then again, it turned out that God had better plans — and He does for each one of us, if we allow Him to be in charge.
How wonderful it is that the best in people are brought out during failure, during misery, and when one is able to open up through humility — all well-described in this Hans Christian Andersen story.
by Hans Christian Andersen
There was a proud Teapot, proud of being made of porcelain, proud of its long spout and its broad handle. It had something in front of it and behind it; the spout was in front, and the handle behind, and that was what it talked about. But it didn’t mention its lid, for it was cracked and it was riveted and full of defects, and we don’t talk about our defects – other people do that. The cups, the cream pitcher, the sugar bowl – in fact, the whole tea service – thought much more about the defects in the lid and talked more about it than about the sound handle and the distinguished spout. The Teapot knew this.
“I know them,” it told itself. “And I also know my imperfections, and I realize that in that very knowledge is my humility and my modesty. We all have many defects, but then we also have virtues. The cups have a handle, the sugar bowl has a lid, but of course I have both, and one thing more, one thing they can never have; I have a spout, and that makes me the queen of the tea table. The sugar bowl and the cream pitcher are permitted to be serving maids of delicacies, but I am the one who gives forth, the adviser. I spread blessings abroad among thirsty mankind. Inside of me the Chinese leaves give flavor to boiling, tasteless water.”
This was the way the Teapot talked in its fresh young life. It stood on the table that was prepared for tea and it was lifted up by the most delicate hand. But that most delicate hand was very awkward. The Teapot was dropped; the spout broke off, and the handle broke off; the lid is not worth talking about; enough has been said about that. The Teapot lay in a faint on the floor, while the boiling water ran out of it. It was a great shock it got, but the worst thing of all was that the others laughed at it – and not at the awkward hand.
“I’ll never be able to forget that!” said the Teapot, when later on it talked to itself about its past life. “They called me an invalid, and stood me in a corner, and the next day gave me to a woman who was begging for food. I fell into poverty, and was speechless both outside and inside, but as I stood there my better life began. One is one thing and then becomes quite another. They put earth in me, and for a Teapot that’s the same as being buried, but in that earth they planted a flower bulb. Who put it there and gave it to me, I don’t know; but it was planted there, a substitution for the Chinese leaves and the boiling water, the broken handle and spout. And the bulb lay in the earth, inside of me, and it became my heart, my living heart, a thing I never had before. There was life in me; there were power and might; my pulse beat. The bulb put out sprouts; thoughts and feeling sprang up and burst forth into flower. I saw it, I bore it, and I forgot myself in its beauty. It is a blessing to forget oneself in others!
“It didn’t thank me, it didn’t even think of me – everybody admired it and praised it. It made me very happy; how much more happy it must have made it!
“One day I heard them say it deserved a better pot. They broke me in two – that really hurt – and the flower was put into a better pot; then they threw me out into the yard, where I lie as an old potsherd. But I have my memory; that I can never lose!”