Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Joy of Failure


So, a fly fisherman dies, and he wakes up in the afterlife, lying next to a beautiful trout stream. The sun is glistening off the water, and because it is a crisp, clear day, he can see the wavy reflection of the mountain peaks in the smooth, swirling water. He sees a trout rise gently to a floating mayfly in the middle of the river, so he picks up his fly rod, ties on a #12 Quill Gordon, wades out into the river, and casts to the rising fish. On his very first cast, he hooks him. The trout shakes his head for a few seconds, then makes a long, hard run across the river and stops and pouts for a moment, a strong clue that this is a brown trout, the fly fisherman’s favorite fish. After a 5 minute game of tug ‘o war in which it was never clear who the winner would be, the fish finally relents and comes closer to his captor. This was the fly fisherman’s favorite moment – when he could see his prey floating effortlessly in the water, a long, shiny, buttery-brown creature, angry but defeated, his fins waving ever so slightly to maintain his balance. The fisherman reached out with his net, which panicked the fish and initiated another two or three minutes of battle. Finally, the exhausted fish came to the net – a flawlessly magnificent 22” brown trout, deeply colored and cold to the touch.

Then he sees another fish rise upstream. He wades. He casts. He catches the fish, again on his very first cast. Another trout – a lively, acrobatic rainbow – well over 20”. Of course, the fly fisherman is thrilled! Eternity will be exactly what he had hoped for – an endless string of days full of big, dumb trout.

That night as the fly fisherman lay in his bed in his cabin by the river, he dreamed of flowing water, mayflies, and rising fish… big fish. In the morning he awoke with the sun and hurried to the river. The trout were rising to a steady hatch of delicate mayflies. This second day was a duplicate of the first: more big fish, always caught on the very first cast. Never a wasted cast. Never a missed fish. It was easy, almost too easy.

And the third day. The same. Exactly the same. A 20+” fish on every cast. It was too easy. The fly fisherman began to wonder if he would ever again not catch a fish.

At the end of the third day, as he stepped out of the river, he saw an old man – the river keeper – walking along the river bank toward him. As they approached one another the old man asked the obvious question: “How’s the fishin’?”

The fly fisherman replied, “Great! Fabulous! A fish on every cast! I’ve never seen anything like it!”

The river keeper nodded his head and replied, “Yeah, that’s what everyone says… at first.”

Then, as his adrenaline and enthusiasm began to settle down, the fly fisherman continued, “But you know, I’m starting to get a little… bored, I guess.” Then, as he paused to swat a mosquito on his neck, he said, “I didn’t think there would be boredom in heaven.”

The river keeper gave the fly fisherman a puzzled look, and replied, “Heaven?”


Success is great. It’s what we all yearn for. And yet, as much as I hate to admit it, challenge and failure add spice to life. Without the agony of defeat, we’d never fully grasp the thrill of victory. We only know and understand success when we have something – failure – to compare it to. Many activities in life – including fly fishing for trout; no, especially fly fishing for trout – are frustrating because they are hard, and success is rare and fleeting. And yet, while an endless string of successes might seem like it would be heavenly… I don’t think so. Indeed, it might be just the opposite.