When we walk in a room and switch on a light, we can be thankful for an unlikely genius named Thomas Edison. We can be grateful for moving pictures and audio recordings as a result of this one man’s perseverance. With very little formal schooling, and numerous mishaps and failures, few people expected young Thomas Alva Edison to amount to anything at all. As a curious boy, he burned down the family stable. As a young man, he lost his job as a newspaper salesman on a train because he nearly blew up one of the train cars with his experiments. As an ambitious entrepreneur and inventor, one of his first inventions turned out to be a colossal commercial failure. Yet he looked at each failure as an opportunity to learn and grow and discover new things.
Edison had a unique drive and perseverance that kept him learning and growing despite his failures and mistakes. He didn’t allow discouragements to linger, rather he pushed forward with curiosity and commitment. And aren’t we thankful? On the 50th anniversary of the electric light bulb, Henry Ford organized a celebration of his dear friend Edison. President Herbert Hoover spoke about the variety of ways that the electric light had made life better, “It enables our towns and cities to clothe themselves in gaiety by night, no matter how sad their appearance may be by day. And by all its multiple uses it has lengthened the hours of our active lives, decreased our fears, replaced the dark with good cheer, increased our safety, decreased our toil, and enabled us to read the type in the telephone book.”*
The light bulb represent countless hours in the laboratory filled with failed experiments and frustrations. When asked by a reporter with the New York Times about the seemingly incredible difficulties associated with developing the light bulb, Edison responded, “I have not failed 700 times. I’ve succeeded in proving 700 ways how not to build a light bulb.” What an extraordinary perspective! Can we look at our mistakes as successes, or are we so caught up in the disappointments and frustrations that we can’t see the positive aspects of our failures? Let’s determine to look at life with and attitude that includes the joy of learning and the opportunity to discover the lesson behind each challenge and mistake.
*Herbert Hoover: “Address on the 50th Anniversary of Thomas Edison’s Invention of the Incandescent Electric Lamp.,” October 21, 1929.
This is an excerpt from my book, Positive Leadership Principles for Women