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My life failures and mistakes

What is a failure?

Denotatively, a failure is just something that turned out differently that we intended. Although it's often helpful to limit the number of things we fail at or the number of times we fail, the risks of failure is inexorably tied to successes, especially successes in things we haven't have success in before. In many circumstances, more failure means more success.

Yet, our cultural tendency is to blame ourselves or to blame others for failures and mistakes. This disempowers us and contaminates our relationships.

Looking back on my failures

The failures and mistakes I've made are innumerable. I have either forgotten or never noticed most of them. In curating below just some of my life failures, I have selected those that others might consider to be significant. For myself these failures occur, at least in retrospect, as interesting journeys and learnings in "The Life of Dwight." These are roughly in chronological order.

  • I tried so hard to belong and be accepted but I never could

    • Perhaps it had something to do with attending six different schools in the first grade (we moved a lot in that year), but I never really learned to feel like I belonged and was accepted by the group or even a clique of "not belongers." 

    • When I was eight years old, I got blamed by the other kids for killing a classmate in rough kids game we were all playing (later we found out that he wasn't dead). I am sure that I was chosen has the scapegoat because I just wasn't considered to be someone who belonged. 

    • To this day, I still feel that I don't belong. In general, it actually seems okay with me and I can take advantage of a lot of benefits of "not belonging," especially a sense of freedom, that others cannot easily do because it's okay with me that I don't belong. But still, looking back, I can see that I suffered a lot compared to most others because I never belonged.

    • I failed at ever learning to belong, a fundamentally important human need.

  • Almost two years of study and planning down the tubes

    • In my freshman year of high school I decided to become a medical technologist. I spent almost two years learning about blood and doing many lab experiments, even typing the blood of many of my neighbors.

    • I failed at becoming a medical technologist because I decided not to continue with it. 

  • Going on sabbatical to figure out my life work: another failure 

    • I took a sabbatical from college in 1964, living in a small converted chicken house on my grandmother's farm in the mountains of Tennessee. The purpose of the sabbatical was to do some deep thinking to finally decide on my career. I was not able to decide on a career so I ended my sabbatical and aimlessly returned to college.

    • I'd been trying to decide on my career from age twelve and I still hadn't nailed it!

  • Another clusterfuck in Europe 

    • I went to Europe just as I was turning 21 with the plan to "have fun" learning German in Germany so I could skip over the boring German courses at the university that were required to finish my degree.

    • While in Germany I gave up on that plan, consequently never learning German and, in the end, quitting college after three years, racking up another big failure. I was just a quitter!

  • Unrequited love (and lust) again and again 

    • I started trying to get a girlfriend from age 18. There were innumerable times I did not choose courage to approach a girl I was attracted to. Moreover, there were scores of times I got one date with a girl, but not two dates, never having a clue as to why they would not go out with me again.

    • I remained unhappily single until I was 26 years old. How pitiful and what a loser I was!

  • I was going to save humanity, but after ten years of trying I didn't save a single person 

    • At age fourteen I discovered libertarianism. I studied the free literature provided by the "Foundation for Economic Education." I often wrote to them to ask questions when I was unclear about some economic issue, which they so generously responded to. In addition, I read books like Henry Hazlitt's, "Economics in One Lesson" and later Ayn Rand's "Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal." 

    • In high school I went around to all the various offices in the city of Shelby, North Carolina where there were magazines for people to read while waiting for their appointments (like dental offices), getting permission to leave copies of "The Freeman" magazine for their customers to read.

    • I knocked on neighbors' doors inviting myself in to discuss various socialist government policies that I knew were misguided. I left copies of essays behind (when my neighbors would accept them) that explained how a free market would provide a much better solution than the government controlled services and regulations.

    • As a freshman at NC State College in Raleigh, North Carolina, I became a writer for "The Technician," the student newspaper. When I could sneak them in, I would write articles that had a libertarian implications (I remember one person complaining about that).

    • I ran for student government (and won), somehow stupidly thinking that the student "government" was a government like the city, state, or federal governments, which it was not. Unlike those other governments, it did not have the power to use force against its constituents. I am sure I was the worst student government representative ever since my motive in running for office was to try to ameliorate their use of force. When I attended the first student government meeting, I embarrassingly discovered my error by collapsing two totally different meanings of the word "government." The student government had no authorization to use force against the students. It wasn't even a government. It was just a funds distribution organization, using money provided to it by the school administration to do "good things."

    • When I moved to New York City, I continued with my campaign to change the fundamental direction of the United States government. I carefully composed a letter challenging a program of the federal government (I think it was Social Security), suggesting how a free market approach might work much better. I hand addressed and stamped over six hundred envelopes mailing them out to every member of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Interestingly, I got a few rubber stamp replies back along with a few others that mentioned some issue the representative was working on but had nothing to do with what I wrote about. I was determined that I couldn't really allow myself to be happy until I saw the fundamental direction of the federal government start to move in the libertarian direction. But what I noticed was the direction continued along the path of increasing socialism and even fascism.

    • At age 24 I gave up on my ten-year-long quest. I was an utter and unknown failure! Special note: at that time there actually was some progress towards libertarianism in people having more personal freedoms, as in the Wade vs. Roe supreme court decision in 1973. But in the area of economic freedom and regulation, I saw increasing loses every year with no end in sight; it didn't matter whether we had a Republican or Democratic president. And the libertarian candidates who ran for president barely got a mention in the media. I was so disillusioned. Another big life washout!

  • I was going to be honored among leading scientists who would be using my software to figure out the age of the universe and to better predict the weather 

    • At age 24, after quitting IBM, I spent over four months going through all my savings while I worked day and night designing and programming a set of FORTRAN subroutines that allowed a computer user to add, subtract, multiply or divide any two numbers of any precision (for example it could multiply two numbers that had 200 digits each, giving a product of 400 digits). I called it EPSILON (extended precision in limits of N). My partner, a businessman, said he would sell it for us and we would split 50-50.

    • I successfully delivered the subroutines but he didn't find a single buyer. What a disappointment!

  • I was abandoned by my best friend because I stupidly lent her money 

    • At age 25 I made the mistake of lending my best friend (and I was her best friend) $3000 because of her financial difficulties. But she was in over her head and she went bankrupt anyway. Even though I could let go of the money, she felt so guilty about not being able to repay me that it ended our friendship.

    • I felt so disrespected and abandoned!

  • I sentenced my mother, the most important person in my life, to five more years of misery 

    • In 1979 at a family reunion at my sister's place in Colorado, my mother, after living with a man for 36 years that she didn't love and didn't respect (and who was bipolar), finally made a firm decision that she was going to leave my father. She was so happy and so was I.

    • But a few months after my parents had returned to Tennessee and I had returned to Arizona, I heard nothing further from my mother about this. It seemed she was continuing to stay with him. At the time I thought, "Well, that's her business. I shouldn't intrude." Later I found out what a mistake that was.

    • After five additional miserable years with my father, even getting herself more financially entangled with him, she finally did leave him. It was only then that I learned that, after that family union five years earlier, my mother had told her mother whom she was taking care of, "I'm going to leave Jack." Her mother replied, "Dorothy, you can't do that. He needs you." Instantly all the sense of hope and excitement was destroyed because my mother thought she couldn't bear her mother's disapproval. She continued to live a life of tolerating my father for five more years, all out of the fear that her mother and maybe others would blame her for abandoning such a needy person as my father was.

    • My regret and mistake was, even though I cannot know this for sure, I believe that if I had called my mother back then in 1979 and asked her what had happened that she seemed to have changed her mind regarding leaving my father, I could have helped her see things more clearly and then she would have then left my father and had five more happy years in her life that she didn't get to have because I was a coward and was trying to be too nice. I really fucked up that time!

  • I invented the most delightful product of the decade that was going to make me a multi-millionaire and internationally famous 

    • In 1982, in collaboration with my first wife, I designed and programmed a software idea that we called "The Computer Poet." It asked the user to enter a first name, plus two personal traits of that person (like "funny" or "serious") along with a message to them (like "I miss you" or "you owe me money"). From this information, the AI software would write a unique three-verse limerick for and about that person. We had reports of people crying from being so touched by these poems.

    • In 1984 we entered into an agreement with a multi-millionaire businessman who founded The Computer Poet Corporation in Incline Village, Nevada. Kiosks which housed the first Macintosh computer, programmed with the embedded Computer Poet software, were placed in greeting card shops across the USA. At first the acceptance and placement in greeting card shops was brisk with over two hundred shops all across America, even including one military commissary. New Tech Times from PBS TV came out to interview and film my wife and me in Arizona. A seven-minute feature video was broadcast nationwide. We were even mentioned in USA Today.

    • For whatever reasons, perhaps because the company expanded too fast before the kinks could be ironed out in being able to adequately service the kiosks which were now dotted all over the map, the expansion stopped and then began to contract. Finally our business partner, who had come out of retirement because he had gotten so excited about the "The Computer Poet," shut down the company and went back into retirement, after burning through a million dollars or so.

    • My wife and I were going to become super rich and internationally famous and it all went to shit! What a bummer!

  • I stupidly and righteously thought I could keep the government from forcing me to pay taxes 

    • Because of a mistake I made by become a "tax rebel," the taxing agency for the State of New York was able to get a $90,000 jeopardy assessment against me (a jeopardy assessment is an amount of money that is just made up out of thin air when the government doesn't have any way to know how much you might or might not owe them).

    • They left me alone for a while after I moved to Arizona, but then they got a collection agency coming after me (and my wife). The only way we able to figure out to get out of that mess was to declare bankruptcy. We held our breath when we asked the bankruptcy judge to specifically rule that the State of New York judgment was null and void, which he did. But we had to unhappily accept the seven-year long consequences of going bankrupt since this was the only way we could get out of that fiasco that I had gotten us into. I could have easily handled all my other debts, but trying to handle that $90,000 was out of the question.

    • How could I have been so righteously stupid to have gotten myself (and my wife) into that train wreck!?

  • Waiting until I was 39 to marry, thinking that would ensure an enduring love for the rest of my life: I was so wrong 

    • With a beautiful backyard wedding with a hundred-plus guests, my wife and I married in March of 1983. I was 39 and thought I had finally found the one.

    • But, after having gone to several counselors together (and even paying $2000 for a session with the famous NLP founder Richard Bandler as well as laying out $5000 for a week's retreat in Maui with the noted tantra-yoga guru Charles Muir), trying (unsuccessfully) to get the spark and passion back that we used to have (and that were starving to get back), we finally called it quits in 1991.

    • I was a life coach and I knew a lot of things. I even coached others to have successful relationships. How could I fail so miserably in my own life with the woman that I hoped to love forever!? What a loser I was#!*!

  • A 49-year old fool, thinking he's got love finally figured out

    • When we were getting married in 1993, I was calling my second wife "my final addiction."

    • That addiction was long gone by the time we separated in 1996. I failed at marriage twice!

  • The deepest love of my entire life and then she dumped me: I cried everyday for five weeks 

    • On a Sunday morning in the fall of 1997 I first made love to a woman I had been good friends with for two years. I fell so quickly into the deepest, most profound love of my life.

    • After two months of an amazing romance with this woman, who I thought fit me better than any woman I had ever found before (I can still feel her in my heart), she dumped me. Every day, for over five weeks, I cried. Every day, for over five weeks, a different friend (I would cycle through them so I wouldn't abuse my friendships with them) would patiently listen to me share about my pain and my fear (that I would never find another woman that fit me like she did). 

    • How stupid could I have been! Love had disappointed me so many times. Couldn't I ever learn?!

  • I carelessly trusted a computer guy and he destroyed all my valuable (and precious) computer data, including the data in all my backups, all the way back to 1977

    • Shortly after moving from Scottsdale, Arizona to Hermosa Beach, California in 1988, I had a computer problem I needed help fixing. I found a computer guy. I knew he was a bit of a novice, but he was confident. I never imagined that he would make any big mistakes in trying to fix my computer problem.

    • He ended up destroying all my data that I had accumulated for over 20 years, some of it so precious to me because of the hundreds, maybe even thousands of letters that I had written to my family and friends. There were also many journals and personal diaries and logs that I had kept. And I had not been careful in creating a secure backup system that was not directly tied to my computer.

    • In some way, I am still paying for that mistake until this day because of that 20-year erasure of my personal history. What a stupid, imbecilic mistake that was!

  • It was so excited to have a new vivacious girlfriend, but she turned out to be a witch

    • Maybe because it had been over a year since I had had a girlfriend, my eyes were half closed when Tina appeared in my life in May of 1999. Our romance progressed quickly. I even joined a dinner gathering she had arranged with her parents. But after about six weeks, I began to suspect she was a bit off: I even had a clue by the way her parents responded to her during our meal together.

    • One day Tina and I were talking on the phone. During that conversation, she asked me if she could visit me in my apartment. Having seen each other just the day before, I said, "I'm sorry, Tina, but not this time." She asked me a few times and each time I repeated what I had said, firmly but also gently. We hung up the phone.

    • Twenty minutes later I hear a knock on my door. As I opened the door, Tina pushed her way into my apartment. Briefly I thought of using force to get her out of my apartment if she refused to leave, quickly dismissing that as a bad idea.

    • She sat down on my sofa and said she had to talk with me. I said, "Tina, I didn't invite you here. Please leave now." She didn't leave. I asked her two more times. She didn't move. Then I said, "Tina, if you don't leave, I'm going to call the police." She continued to sit on my sofa showing no intention of leaving. I picked up my phone and repeated what I had just said. She got down on her knees and begged me not to call the police. Having some appreciation of mental illness (having grown up with my father who was bipolar) and through my experience as a life coach, I felt a lot of compassion for her and knew that she must be feeling very desperate or she otherwise would not allow herself to so blatantly violate my boundaries. And I also knew that if I "made an exception," I was likely opening myself up to future violations. 

    • I called the police. They arrived quickly, in about ten minutes. The man policeman talked with me inside my apartment. The policewoman took Tina outside and talked with her on the porch just outside my front door. 

    • The officer just asked me for reassurance that Tina's name was not on the lease to confirm that she had no legal right to stay in my apartment. I gave him that reassurance. I could hear the policewoman calmly telling Tina that she had to leave. Tina was very angrily arguing with her. Finally Tina left. I thanked the police officers.

    • That relationship was a disaster! How could a smart guy like me have gotten himself into that mess!?

  • I spent four years of my life writing a ground-breaking book and, after 18 years since it was published, it's still only sold a few thousand copies

    • I started writing my book about courage in the year 2000. After working on it almost every day for four years and spending my own money to get it edited and published in 2004, although many have agreed with me that Courage: the Choice that Make the Difference-Your Keys to a Thousand Doors is indeed a life-changing book, it remains unknown to all but a few thousand people. 

    • How could I have been so naive to believe that others would recognize the genius of my work! Another life disaster!

  • Maybe I don't deserve to be a cat owner. I was so insensitive that I let my SuperBlue die.

    • I bought SuperBlue (originally named LittleBlue), a Russian shorthair, as a kitten in Shanghai. When I moved to Kunming at the beginning of 2010, I brought him with me. 

    • Somehow I didn't notice, even though it had been occurring over several weeks, that he was listlessly lying around a lot, unlike his previous more energetic self. By the time his listlessness became so obvious to me that I took him to a vet, then vet said, "There is nothing I can do for him." I was told that if I had brought him in earlier, he could have be treated and cured.

    • I cried as I held him while the vet injected him and put my precious SuperBlue to "sleep."

    • Something as simple as being aware of when my cat needed some help and I even messed that up!

  • Future featured failures​​

    • Missing out on enlightenment



Just so you know

Those self reprimands expressed in characterizing each of the above failures were written tongue-in-cheek. 

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