Magnificent failure

If you’ve ever been to a rocket launch, you’ve probably witnessed the tense preparations leading to the final moment, and experienced the dramatic silence during the countdown.

Three, two, one, ignition, hopefully followed by liftoff, the fine line between a fizz and a bang. You might not have realized at the time exactly how fine of a line that was, or how many test countdowns have led to fizzes and bangs in preparation to this launch.

Rocketry is exciting, enticing, addictive. The excitement of a successful launch leaves you ecstatic, yet there’s another side to rocketry, the bulk of the iceberg, which you typically wouldn’t associate with the fast and mighty liftoff. Rocketry teaches you about patience and failure, lots and lots of it. While most other engineering projects also require tedious preparations and numerous tests before a successful “launch”, the difference in rocketry is, if your test isn’t successful, in most cases you can’t just stop running it, fix what’s wrong, and then test it again. When a rocket launch fails, it tends to fail rather spectacularly, which means back to the drawing board, starting from scratch. Watching your hard work fail can be crushing and painful, but it motivates you to pick up the pieces, learn your lesson about what caused it to fail, and move on.

If you haven’t failed, you haven’t lived. There are countless tweets, social media groups, blog posts on the subject, and even tear-jerking Youtube videos depicting how famous people overcame countless failures and finally succeeded in life. Yet failure is something we tend to avoid like the plague, and naturally so. It’s in our genes to stay out of harm’s way. We believe that failure in school or the workplace shows us in a bad light, therefore we tend to stigmatize teachers and bosses that ‘lead us’ to fail. Teachers that give out good grades are seldom harassed by parents, students or school administrations in the same way that stricter, demanding teachers are. This urge to always be right, always succeed, always avoid failure, begins at an early age and stays with us throughout our lives. When you get to the real world, though, you suddenly realize that having spent most of your childhood learning how to succeed, as an adult you need to learn to fail, to fall flat on your face and then get up, dust yourself off, and keep moving.

I’ve met people in my life who rarely fail. Those are the people that steer clear of danger, walking away from problems instead of facing them head-on. I do believe you can actually solve a problem by avoiding it, leaving it for somebody else to solve. By doing this, though, you learn nothing yourself, and worse, you become a prisoner in your own comfort zone, staying in place while the world moves forward. Tasks you avoided grow more daunting, until you reach a point where you’d rather walk in the opposite direction than trying to overcome the mental barrier you’ve put up for yourself. Innovation is about exiting your comfort zone, and you’re sure to fail along the way. But don’t be afraid of it: the worst kind of failure is failing to try.

Olga Motsyk is an MSc aerospace engineering student from Kiev, Ukraine. She can be reached at olgamotsyk@gmail.com

Jeroen van Wessem studeert sinds dit jaar bouwkunde en woont in Huize Lakennijverheid, direct achter het station. In dit voormalige winkelpand wonen nu zes DSC-studenten. Omdat het huis binnenkort in de verkoop gaat, zijn er twee onderhuurders. Als HJ moet Van Wessem stofzuigen en de deur open doen, maar die taken combineren slecht: als je aan het stofzuigen bent, hoor je de deurbel niet. Het hertengewei in zijn kamer is een cadeau van zijn moeder en is inderdaad bedoeld om dassen aan te hangen.

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