Back to the drawing board

I had written the first draft of what I thought would be my next column and I showed it to my wife, and she didn’t like it. I can’t remember her exact words, but I think they were something like “I don’t think it’s one of your best”; or perhaps they were a bit more definitive, such as “Honey, this sucks.”

But the exact words weren’t important. All I knew was that now I had to go back to the drawing board, start over, begin again, do something new, switch gears. It didn’t matter what term or cliché I used; I had just wasted more than an hour of my life.

Spiritual people would say, “No, it wasn’t a waste. There is no such thing as wasted time,” to which I’d say, “Well, now I’ve wasted even more of my time listening to you guys.” Because the fact is that there is no way to put a good spin on the need to start again, whether you’re talking about something as small as writing a single column or as big as having to cook a new meal because you messed up the one you’d just cooked.


There’s an expression I’ve heard many times in recent years that’s abbreviated by AFGO. It refers to messing something up and the opportunity this gives you to grow. I’ll euphemize it by saying it stands for Another Fabulous Growth Opportunity. This little phrase is just one of the many phrases and sayings our culture employs to try to help us feel better about our mistakes.

We have so many. One that’s been around for a long time is “If you don’t succeed at first, try, try again.” Sure, try again and waste even more time. My feeling is, if you don’t succeed at first, give up. You’re a loser. But hey, that’s me. I know that in America the watchword is using your bad experiences to grow. If life hands you a lemon, make lemonade. If you fall down, just get up, dust yourself off, and start all over again.

Maybe it’s time to get rid of or replace some of those well-worn expressions that encourage countless people to waste time and money trying to make silk purses out of sows’ ears.

So here’s a start on the way to helping people recognize that there is such a thing as failure, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. In spite of what some people in one of our political parties might say, it is not possible for every person to reach the top.

Let’s start with that old saw, “If life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.” I first saw that in Dale Carnegie’s famous book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and the meaning, of course, is that if you have a problem, you can ingeniously translate it into some wonderful success. My feeling? If life hands you a lemon, squeeze it into other people’s eyes so that they suffer too. Why should you be the only miserable person in your group?

Or how about, “Every challenge is an opportunity.” Oh, yes, it sure is. It’s an opportunity to recognize your limits, to realize that perhaps you’re in the wrong field; in fact, perhaps you’re on the wrong planet. So why not make it, “Every challenge is an opportunity to ask your doctor to increase the dosage of your anti-depressant”?

And then there’s that very common expression used when something you’ve worked on has not gone well: “Back to the drawing board.” You know what I say? Get rid of the drawing board. Maybe it’s time to retire and move to Florida. There are no drawing boards down there, just beaches and golf courses. “Back to the beach” sounds so much better than “back to the drawing board.”

And then there’s this one, which is specifically about love, but is in the same general mode as the others: “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” No, it’s not. It is better to have loved and won. Let’s face it, some of us are just not very lovable and should be hermits.

Finally, there’s the one that parents often say to their children if the little tykes are upset before they go to bed: “Things will look better in the morning.” Sorry, kids, but they won’t. And if they do, it’s just an illusion. It’s the same old same old. To slightly modify that great line from The Who’s classic, “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Meet the new day, same as the old day.”

Well, if my wife doesn’t like this one, I’m not going back to the drawing board. I’m going back to bed.