Failure and Edison – The Korea Times

Bomi Yoon

By Lee Nan-hee


I have been continuously working on research papers in my field of study since I received my doctoral degree. Recently, I finished a paper and tried to contribute it to a journal of the KCI. I waited for several days before receiving a rejection. As it was a paper that I had written over several months and with a great amount of effort and sincerity, I was very disappointed. Many thoughts went through my mind. Why did it fail? What went wrong? Hadn’t I done my best? Does the content of the paper not fit with the journal’s style? Should I try to send it to another journal? What if it gets rejected again? … I felt weary, tired and frustrated.

More days passed and I was sitting quietly in front of my desk. All of a sudden, things from my past sprang to mind. Times when I made mistakes, felt embarrassed and flat-out failed. Times when I was nervous and trembling with fear before reviewing my doctoral dissertation, and when I was criticized over my thesis and my translations. For a long period, I had gone through such difficulties, failures and tough times, all these led to what I am, who I am now. Of course, I am still not perfect. I can make mistakes. I can fail. It’s the same for everyone.

Thomas Edison’s life, which I read about when I was an elementary school student came to my mind. With much curiosity, the playful Edison was almost kicked out of elementary school when he was in the 3rd grade. I learned that the 12-year-old Edison had to sell newspapers and candy all day long on the train, as his family’s economic situation worsened. However, he said that this was the happiest time in his life.

To make matters worse, he lost his hearing in one ear. However, he remained optimistic saying that he could concentrate better on telegraphic codes and dismiss extraneous noise due to his hearing loss.

Edison was fired from a job and had to find another. Once, a fire broke out in the building he worked in and the experiment he had been working on and the results were destroyed. Edison said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” The more you fail, the closer you get to success. He finally invented the incandescent lamp, saying, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” What a persistent, patient and unyielding person he was!

In this world, everyone buzzes when it comes to the success stories. Both traditional and new media like to pay attention to the success stories of just a select few. Whereas they are a very limited number of people, the rest of us, 90 percent or so live in despair at our failures. Are there stories dedicated to the common people? Why aren’t there more stories of failure?

Humans die and decay in the end, no matter who they may be. So, it is not strange at all that I failed to get my paper published in the journal. It can happen. Never did I imagine that I would be moved and encouraged by Edison’s life story at over 50 years of age. I could realize again that the more I fail, the nearer I get to success. It also caught my attention that in Gangneung, Gangwon Province there is an Edison museum. In this museum, a 19th-century electric car is on exhibition, one of only three of its kind in the whole world. Failure is not just a failure. It can provide valuable insights that point to a new way not yet known as success.

Lee Nan-hee studied English in college and theology at Hanshin University.



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