Atul Gawande: Failure and Rescue : The New Yorker

Atul Gawande, who I always find interesting to read, made this commencement address at Williams College this year, focusing on failure, and how we react to and correct it (‘rescue’). Concluding quotes:

As you embark on your path from here, you are going to take chances—on a relationship, a job, a new line of study. You will have great hopes. But things won’t always go right.

When I graduated from college, I went abroad to study philosophy. I hoped to become a philosopher, but I proved to be profoundly mediocre in the field. I tried starting a rock band. You don’t want to know how awful the songs I wrote were. I wrote one song, for example, comparing my love for a girl to the decline of Marxism. After this, I worked in government on health-care legislation that not only went nowhere, it set the prospect of health reform back almost two decades.

But the only failure is the failure to rescue something. I took away ideas and experiences and relationships with people that profoundly changed what I was able to do when I finally found the place that was for me, which was in medicine.

So you will take risks, and you will have failures. But it’s what happens afterward that is defining. A failure often does not have to be a failure at all. However, you have to be ready for it—will you admit when things go wrong? Will you take steps to set them right?—because the difference between triumph and defeat, you’ll find, isn’t about willingness to take risks. It’s about mastery of rescue.

Not bad advice: we all make mistakes, how we recognize this, hopefully earlier rather than later,  and recover is key to success.

Atul Gawande: Failure and Rescue : The New Yorker.


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