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Jewish World Review Sept. 25, 2002 / 17 Tishrei 5763

Steve Young

Steve Young
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Held up in the passing lane

... and life's other positive curve balls | People and events, all of life, in fact, have had it in for me.

I don't know how many times I've been on the road stuck behind some old turtle of a car in the left lane, while I watch everyone in the slow lane passing me by. Don't they know that the left lane is for passing?! And now they're going even slower. C'mon! Don't they know they should be doing their loafing in the right lane? Don't they know I have an appointment? Don't they know that...that...that...Hey! They're turning left. They were in the left lane because they were preparing to turn left. Yikes. How embarrassing.

Still, the guy could have waited for me to pass before he changed lanes. Don't these people think of anyone else besides themselves? Maybe he doesn't have anything better to do with his time, but I'm on a schedule and this guy is making a mess of it. And now... Oh, accident up ahead. Now I'm going to miss my appointment completely. If that guy didn't get in my lane and slow me down I would have made that appointment...OR ...ahem, I might have been IN that accident.

Life is always throwing curve balls. But are they really curve balls? Or is the curve only an illusion set up by our own expectations of what a good pitch should look like? While they may not look like slow and easy pitches, right over the plate, grooved for us to hit them out of the park, perhaps they're not really that bad. Perhaps they're balls that we should wait on, let them do their thing, and then smack them between first and second base for a ball-with-eyes single. Who says that every hit has to be a home run?

I've heard a number of people say "You want to make G-d laugh? Tell him your plans."

But after living long enough (at least long enough to be considered too old to write for TV sitcoms), I've found that practically everyone of those obstacles I've run into end up being for the best...if I choose to accept it that way.

Adversity, mistakes and failure have been long thought of as bad things. To be avoided at all costs. But ask any scientist and you'll discover that failure is not only necessary, but instrumental in getting them where they need to go.

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Dr. W. French Anderson, known to many as the "Father of Gene Therapy," headed the team that carried out the first approved human gene therapy clinical protocol and is recognized as an ongoing innovator in the research area of human gene transfer. In my book, "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful: Mistakes, Adversity, Failure and Other Stepping Stones to Success" Dr. Anderson says that failure, in itself, quite the success. "It's the experiment that fails that tells you the most. You do the experiment and get a result you don't expect.

You get something different and it tells you something new. If you get what you predicted, you haven't learned anything new. All you've done is confirm your previous thinking. If you want to do pioneering work you don't want to just confirm; you want to look for something that's different from what you expected. Sometimes you can't succeed because you've overshot. The ones who are successful are the ones who rise a little bit higher and make the greater effort. That requires a certain drive and dedication. Failure, especially humiliating failure, can hand you that extra drive."

Now this isn't to say that dealing more calmly with traffic problems will lead you to some great discovery, though I'm not saying it won't. But being available to learning from your situation will, in the least, leave you much less agitated. Finding your own way to accomplish that serenity, on its own, could easily be defined as a considerable accomplishment. And tell me, when was the last time you've ever accomplished anything stuck in traffic?

JWR contributor Steve Young, Prism Award winner and Humanitas Prize nominee for his television writing, is contributing editor at the Writers Guild of America's "Written By" magazine. He is the author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful: Mistakes, Adversity, Failure and Other Stepping Stones to Success". His website is Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Steve Young