4Vicky
? beautiful, talented, very bright, voted "Most Likely to
Succeed" in college ? got a promising job with a large company after graduation. Then, after two years without promotions, she was fired. She suffered a complete nervous breakdown. "It was panic," she told me later. "Everything had always gone so well for me that I had no experience in coping with rejection. I felt I was a failure." Vicky's reaction is an extreme example of a common phenomenon. Our society places so much emphasis on "making it" that we assume that any failure is bad. What we don't always recognize is that what looks like failure may, in the long run, prove beneficial. When Vicky was able to think coolly about why she was fired, for example, she realized that she was simply not suited for a job dealing with people all the time. In her new position as a copy editor, she works independently, is happy and once again "successful." People are generally prone to what language expert S. I. Hayakawa calls "the two-valued orientation." We talk about seeing both sides of a question as if every question had only two sides. We assume that everyone is either a success or a failure when, in fact, infinite degrees of both are possible. As Hayakawa points out, there's a world of difference between "I have failed three times" and "I am a failure." Indeed, the words failure and success cannot be reasonably applied to a complex, living, changing human being. They can only describe the situation at a particular time and place. Obviously no one can be brilliant at everything. In fact, success in one area often precludes success in another. A famous politician once told me that his career had practically destroyed his marriage. "I have no time for my family," he explained. "I travel a lot. And even when I'm home, I hardly see my wife and kids. I've got power, money, prestige ? but as a husband and father, I'm a flop." Certain kinds of success can indeed be destructive. The danger of too early success is particularly acute. I recall from my childhood a girl whose skill on ice skates marked her as "Olympic material." While the rest of us were playing, bicycling, reading and just loafing, this girl skated ? every day after school and all weekend. Her picture often appeared in the papers, and the rest of us envied her glamorous life. Years later, however, she spoke bitterly of those early triumphs. "I never prepared myself for anything but the ice," she said. "I peaked at 17 ? and it's been downhill ever since." Success that comes too easily is also damaging. The child who wins a prize for a carelessly - written essay, the adult who distinguishes himself at a first job by lucky accident faces probable disappointment when real challenges arise. Success is also bad when it's achieved at the cost of the total quality
of an experience. Successful students sometimes become so obsessed with grades that they never enjoy their school years. They never branch out into tempting new areas, because they don't want to risk their grade - point average. Why are so many people so afraid of failure? Simply because no one tells us how to fail so that failure becomes a growing experience. We forget that failure is part of the human condition and that "every person has the right to fail." Most parents work hard at either preventing failure or shielding their children from the knowledge that they have failed. One way is to lower standards. A mother describes her child's hastily made table as "perfect!" even though it's clumsy and unsteady. Another way is to shift blame. If John fails math, his teacher is unfair or stupid. The trouble with failure - prevention devices is that they leave a child unequipped for life in the real world. The young need to learn that no one can be best at everything, no one can win all the time ? and that it's possible to enjoy a game even when you don't win. A child who's not invited to a birthday party, who doesn't make the honor roll or the baseball team feels terrible, of course. But parents should not offer a quick consolation prize or say, "It doesn't matter," because it does. The youngster should be allowed to experience disappointment ? and then be helped to master it. Failure is never pleasant. It hurts adults and children alike. But it can make a positive contribution to your life once you learn to use it. Step one is to ask, "Why did I fail?" Resist the natural impulse to blame someone else. Ask yourself what you did wrong, how you can improve. If someone else can help, don't be shy about inquiring. When I was a teenager and failed to get a job I'd counted on, I telephoned the interviewer to ask why. "Because you came ten minutes late," I was told. "We can't afford employees who waste other people's time." The explanation was reassuring (I hadn't been rejected as a person) and helpful, too. I don't think I've been late for anything since. Success, which encourages repetition of old behavior, is not nearly as good a teacher as failure. You can learn from a disastrous party how to give a good one, from an ill-chosen first house what to look for in a second. Even a failure that seems total can prompt fresh thinking, a change of direction. A friend of mine, after 12 years of studying ballet, did not succeed in becoming a dancer. She was turned down by the ballet master, who said, "You will never be a dancer. You haven't the body for it." In such cases, the way to use failure is to take stock courageously, asking, "What have I left? What else can I do?" My friend put away her toe shoes and moved into dance therapy, a field where she's both
competent and useful. Though we may envy the assurance that comes with success, most of us are attracted by courage in defeat. There is what might be called the noble failure ? the special heroism of aiming high, doing your best and then, when that proves not enough, moving bravely on. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "A man's success is made up of failures, because he experiments and ventures every day, and the more falls he gets, moves faster on....I have heard that in horsemanship ? a man will never be a good rider until he is thrown; then he will not be haunted any longer by the terror that he shall tumble, and will ride whither he is bound."
5While
preparing to graduate from high school in 1987, Priscilla
Vazquez waited anxiously for her letter from the University of Washington, hoping she would be the first person in her family to attend college. When the acceptance letter arrived, she was overjoyed. There was just one problem: The University of Washington didn't have any grant money to give Priscilla. It offered her only a small loan and expected her family to come up with the rest. "My family was making enough money to get by, but not enough to pay that much for me to go to school," she said. Priscilla called the financial-aid office for advice. They told her that prospective students seeking more financial aid are eligible only if they have lived apart from their parents for a minimum of two years. During that time, their parents cannot have claimed them as a dependent on the family's tax forms. "Hearing this, I was totally stunned," Priscilla recalls. "I realized I was going to have to take some time off, work, become financially independent from my parents, and then reapply to school. Postponing my dream hurt, but it was the only possibility." Within a month, Priscilla had found a job at a restaurant and moved into a cheap apartment in a poor neighborhood of Seattle. She also signed up for a job-training program in the city, to learn to be a secretary. It was a hard lifestyle to adjust to. "I got up at 6 a.m. for a long commute to school, finished class at 2 p.m., started work at three, got off my shift at 11 p.m., and then I came back home and collapsed." Priscilla soon found that her restaurant job just didn't pay enough for her to make ends meet. "So I went to the landlord of my apartment building and asked if there was any cleaning work I could do. Since he
felt sorry for me, he agreed to give me thirty hours a month." The job-training program was designed to last six months. Priscilla finished it in four. "They taught me various office skills and word-processing programs. I also learned to answer the phone in an office setting, and write proper business letters," she said. The program helped Priscilla find employment as a secretary with a small company. "It was my first decent job," she says. "I was nineteen years old, living on my own, and making $15,000 a year." Priscilla reapplied to the University of Washington and was accepted. She qualified for financial aid because she had been independent from her parents for more than two years. As of the fall of 1990, Priscilla was finally a college student ? working full-time during the day as a secretary and going to school full-time at night. Balancing work and school was difficult. "I was staying up late studying, and going to work early every morning. I was having a hard time concentrating in class, and a hard time on the job because I was so tired," she says. But she ended up with two A's in her first semester anyway. Priscilla decided to pursue an archaeology major, and in the summer of 1992, she got her first opportunity to really test out her interest in the subject. The archaeological field school of Washington State University was sponsoring a summer research project at a site alongside the Snake River in Washington. Priscilla threw herself into the work, and the project supervisors were impressed. At the end of the summer, one of the professors offered her a job. "He said,‘We just got a contract for a project in North Dakota. We want to hire you if you're willing to take a semester off from school.'" The offer was a diversion from Priscilla's pursuit of her BA. "But by then I no longer doubted that I would ultimately finish school, so I felt comfortable grabbing this opportunity," she says. When the North Dakota project ended, Priscilla moved to California, where she could live rent-free with one of her brothers. "I ended up working three jobs, trying to make as much money as I could," she recalls. "I was tired of working full-time and being a full-time student. My goal was to save enough money to let me go back to school, study full-time and work only part-time." Priscilla's brother ran a house-cleaning service, and he agreed to give her work. And she decided to enroll at a local community college where the tuition was much cheaper. Priscilla took some art classes (she was an amateur photographer) and helped organize a gallery exhibit of students' artwork, including her own. In the spring of 1994, she graduated from Wenatchee Valley College with a two-year Associate of Arts degree. After graduating, Priscilla applied to the University of Washington once more. She was
accepted and enrolled in the fall of 19
  94. Not having to work so many hours allowed her to make school her priority. "This was such a luxury, I was almost sorry to graduate!" Priscilla laughs. "But I was awarded my BA in January of 19
  96." As Priscilla looks back on her years of struggle to make her dream come true, she is cautiously encouraging toward others working their way through school. "To balance work and school, you have to know yourself," she says. "You have to know what you can take and what you can't take. You need a lot of discipline, and you have to stay focused, even when you run into barriers and distractions and delays. But mostly you need determination. If you get put down once, just get back up there and keep fighting."
6He
has been proclaimed "the finest mind alive", "the greatest
genius of the late 20th century", and "Einstein's heir". Known to millions, far and wide, for his book A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking is a star scientist in more ways than one. His gift for revealing the mysteries of the universe in a style that non-scientists can enjoy made Hawking an instant celebrity and his book a bestseller in both Britain and America. It has earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for spending 184 weeks in The Sunday Times "top-ten" lists, and has sold more than five million copies worldwide ? virtually unheard-of success for a science book. How did all this happen? How has a man who is almost completely paralysed and unable to speak except through a computer overcome these incredible obstacles and achieved far more than most people ever dream of? Stephen William Hawking was a healthy baby, born to intellectual, eccentric parents. His father Frank, a doctor specialising in tropical diseases, and his mother Isobel, a doctor's daughter, lived in a big old house full of books. Carpets and furniture stayed in use until they fell apart; the wallpaper hung peeling from old age. The family car was a London taxi, bought for £
  50. Hawking has always been fascinated by his birth date: January 8,19
  42. It was the 300th anniversary of the death of Galileo, the Italian mathematician and astronomer who revolutionised astronomy by maintaining that the Sun is the centre of the Solar System ? not the Earth, as ancient astronomers believed. "Galileo", says Hawking, "was the first scientist to start using his eyes, both figuratively and literally. In a sense, he was responsible for the age of science we now enjoy."
Hawking attended St. Albans School, a private school noted for its high academic standards. He was part of a small elite group, the brigh
 

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