The Value of Failure

A while ago, I worked my first shift as an EMT-in-training. I use the word “worked” loosely, as I did very little work and quite a bit of standing and watching. My shift took place after only 3 days of classes, and I felt like I knew very little about emergency medical care. Every time I went to do something on the ambulance, I totally messed it up. That sounds dramatic but let me assure you, it is not an exaggeration. I just wanted to do my best and be helpful, but I felt like more of a hindrance than anything. But I had to work for 12 hours, so I told myself to shake it off, and press on.

The paramedic told me to press the red button on the ambulance. I couldn’t find the red button. I literally had to make the medic stop what she was doing to show me how to push a button. Then I couldn’t figure out how to open the ambulance door from the inside. Then I almost got hit by a car when we were stopped at a traffic accident. Then I dropped the computer. Eleven hours later, I just wanted to be done. I was tired and ready to go home and sleep all my failures off. With 45 minutes left of my shift, the radio went off. We received a call to a nursing home for the transfer of a resident. Off we went. It was a simple transfer, so once we got to the nursing home, I decided to actually try and be useful. Surely I could assist with a simple transfer and so I went to the front of the group and asked how I could help. Nope. As I was doing my best to blend into the wall, a worker at the nursing home looked at me and asked, “Are you in training?” I tried to laugh it off and asked, “Is it that easy to tell?” She laughed and confirmed that yes, it was very easy to tell that I had no idea what I was doing. Thank you for that confirmation. I made some comment to try and direct the conversation in another direction, but she stopped me and said, “I am so glad you are in training. It means you are learning.” I again tried to politely steer the conversation away from myself and she eventually left me in order to assist with the patient.

Once the patient was on the stretcher and we were ready to transport her to the ambulance, I moved out of the way and let the crowd go ahead as I stayed back and followed. But the nursing home aid stopped and stayed behind with me. As I passed her, she looked at me and said, “Good luck with your training, and never be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes are the only way to know that you are actually learning. So many people come here and never learn because they are afraid to fail. I am so glad I could tell you are training; do not be ashamed of that. It means you are one that is willing to fail in order to be better. Never forget that success always starts by looking like a failure. Never be afraid to look like you’re training.”

Too often, I let my pride get in the way of my learning. Too often, I am so afraid of looking bad, I never even try. But I was not created to live that way. I was created with the ability to learn from my mistakes and my failures; to continue trying with the knowledge that even when I fail, I can learn. I am sure I am going to fail a lot over the next four years, but my prayer is that rather than getting discouraged, each failure will bring a lesson that will ultimately make me a better physician, a better friend, a better human. Even just a few weeks in, I am already learning that medicine is much more than physiology. My medical education is about more than my grades. This journey’s purpose is to stretch me, challenge me, grow me and transform me into a person, who is capable of providing care to broken people, as a broken person myself. It is a journey to learn how to leave people healthier than I found them, both physically and spiritually. To show people compassion, respect and love. I hope I am never afraid to look like I am training. There will be plenty of failures and lessons along the way.



Leanne Brechtel

I am originally from Buffalo, New York where I grew up eating real chicken wings, watching the Buffalo Bills, working as a barista and shoveling four feet of snow off my driveway each morning. I moved down south in 2013 to attend North Greenville University where I obtained a degree in biology with a focus on environmental studies. During my time at NGU I gained both a passion for health care and a love for the community of Greenville. So when I decided to attend medical school, it was no question that USCSOMG was my top choice. I am stoked to be beginning my journey to become a physician as a member of the Class of 2020.

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  • George F Maynard, III - 3 years ago


    I do not believe in coincidences so I know the Universe gave you an opportunity at a young age to learn something most valuable, and the nursing home worker was your angel that night. In my 40 year career, I have learned many important “take aways” from important life events. I lived in Binghamton NY for seven years being a southerner from Mississippi. I had an important failure during that time in my healthcare career. I hope these learning are valuable to you as well:

    1.Find your joy. There is a big difference between happiness and joy. Your happiness depends on circumstances that are exterior to you. The root word for happiness is Hap which means luck or chance. It rains on your picnic – You are not happy. The sun shines on your picnic. You are happy. But Joy allows you to benefit from all your life experiences – rain or shine. Viktor Frankl in his classic work, Man’s Search for Meaning said, “Everything can be taken from (you) but one thing – the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

    2.Embrace that fact that the choice is yours. Frankel did not mean, you will always get to make the choice about what happens in your life, because he suffered great atrocities in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII. What he learned, and we all must learn, is that we will always have the power to select the response to what happens to you no matter what challenging life situation comes to you. So ask yourself what is your Response Ability?

    3.Accepting your power to choose how to deal with life, take full responsibility for your life. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry their own weight, this is a frightening prospect.” This is a revolutionary thought – one that bars us from blaming the tyrant boss, the promotion missed, and the unfavorable circumstances and instead moves you to be the creator of your life! You decide your attitude, your emotions, your reactions, as well as who to forgive and of what to let go.

    4.Fail with enthusiasm. What I have learned in the first three points was crystallized through a life test in 1986. I was fired from my job as the Vice President of Development and Public Affairs while in Binghamton New York. This unforgettable experience taught me to embrace “yes” – no matter what happens. Learn from the best experiences and from the very worst. In the end, you have to deal with it anyway, so say, YES, this, too—no matter what. And by the way, don’t take it personally. Remember…WHAT SOMEONE ELSE THINKS OF YOU IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS! (Even if they can fire you!).

    A most valuable learning for me was to understand that before every beginning there must be an ending, not the other way around. And before the new beginning the time in between is the time for learning and growing. So my job came to an end and before the new beginning I spent six months not knowing what the new beginning was to be. Those six months became some of the most important in my life, because I had to accept, or not. For me, Joy became a reality that can never be taken from me.

    I guess you can tell I was struck by your blog–what happened that night was for a reason–use it for good! George Maynard, GHS Vice President of Institutional Advancement

  • Jeremiah White - 3 years ago

    It’s funny, I was just mentioning to my wife earlier this month that one of the difficulties of M3 year is the constant rotating from one environment to the next. Many times in my rotations I’ve felt just as you describe in your EMT shift. You hop from one service to the next, from one clinic to the next, feeling like a colossal failure, and when you feel like you’ve had just about all the “doh” moments you possibly can, you switch from one specialty to the next and repeat the whole process over!

    In the end, though, as you pointed out, it’s these failures that stretch us and teach us, and really only do harm to our pride. It’s a true notion, but one I forget too often, so thank you for the encouragement, I needed it!

    P.S. Pretty much everyone’s first EMT shift went something like that. I couldn’t find that cursed button either, and it took me *not exaggerating* 15 minutes to figure out how to plug in the laptop. A LAPTOP. How I am in medical school is beyond me. lol