Tuesday’s Quotes #17 – Life Lessons?

“Ever tried, Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better”

— Samuel Beckett Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett (1906 – 1989) was an Irish playwright and novelist, probably best known for “Waiting for Godot”.

Even though the admonishment to ‘fail better’ kind of leaves me scratching my head a bit, I like the quote. It has, oddly, become a relatively popular motivational meme in recent years – odd because the work it came out of – “Worstward Ho” – is not really known for its relentless optimism – nor are any of Beckett’s other works, to be totally honest.

In fact, taken fully in context, the quote is far from inspirational (but that is true of most of the inspirational quotes that I’ve seen – put them back in their original home, and they are often significantly less than inspiring). The first two sentences of that line are “All of old. Nothing else ever.” Leading to the conclusion that Beckett was probably talking about doing the same thing, and failing at it, over and over. And, as the name might suggest, “Worstward Ho” gets much less inspiring as it progresses.

But, not being a literary critic, I’ll let Beckett’s writing stand on its own since he managed to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, and instead offer my own take on why it is seen as inspirational.  I like the way the quote flows. My guess is that others did as well. And without its first two sentences attached, it seems to be saying that you try, you fail, you try again, and you get better each time. Which may make for more spectacular failures – but then how else do you know you’re really trying? And I think to that each time we fail, we actually get a bit better at it – and hurt ourselves less in the process.

So – taken completely out of context – I can see how someone would find those six short sentences motivating. But, admittedly, I’m stretching here. Personally, I find the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote “Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” far more inspirational.

Any other thoughts?


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