• Daniel Kephart

Epic Fail: The Importance of Screwing-Up

(Today's article is a guest post by Theodore Clayton, who studies Biology at the university level.)

The primary job of a scientist is to fail. We're the mess-makers of the cosmos.

Pretty neat, right? Let me give you an example from my own work, complete with undecipherable Latin.

In my research, I'm hunting for genetic evidence of a mutualistic relationship between the magnetotactic bacteria and the nematode C. elegans. Riveted already, right? Well buckle up, partner, 'cause it's about to get wild: This week my PCR gel produced zero bands.

Okay, so it's not exactly Infinity War level exciting, but stick with me.

A lot of people think the job of a scientist is to well, uh, do science stuff. Invent new medicines, discover new bacteria, cure the common idiot--the list goes on. Well, they're wrong. Invention is a very useful side-effect of science, but it isn't the aim of it. As scientists, our entire job revolves around one thing: Discovering the truth.

And that requires failure.

When I was 9-years old, I got the bright idea to pilot my BMX bike down the nearest hill (which was was a little alleyway, weirdly enough) and onto a tiny plastic ramp. The ramp snapped, I tumbled sideways, and my right arm and the bricks of the alley got acquainted with each other.

That day I learned a valuable lesson: Don't use little plastic ramps. They break.

Humans aren't very good at thinking things through. We don't learn from abstraction. What we do learn from, though, is colliding with brick walls. We learn real fast once we have a stake in the game.

And the biggest game in the universe revolves around discovering the truth. Problem is, the truth is hard to find. In fact, sometimes it feels nearly impossible.

That's where science comes in. The amazing thing about science is its power to find out what's right by determining what's wrong. Now, that isn't always easy. It's hard to be wrong--because it's embarrassing...and humans don't like to be embarrassed.

That's why those who can overcome their fear of embarrassment excel. When we fail, we become more resilient. When that happens, we start asking new questions rather than trying to hide from the eyes of others.

So next time you experience an epic fail...Keep your chin up and start asking questions.

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