“I HAVE A TWO-MINUTE PRESENTATION ON SUCCESS and failure that I always give when I’m invited to lecture at a company or school,” said Wilson Greatbatch, inventor of the implantable cardiac pacemaker, for which he was inducted into the National Inventors’ Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, in 1986.
“I don’t think that the good Lord cares whether you succeed or fail,” is what Greatbatch says. “But I think He does care that you try–and that you try hard.
“You shouldn’t fear failure, because failures are valuable learning experiences. If everything you do works out well and you have no failures, it means you’re not trying hard enough. Moreover, your most abject failure may be part of some grand success in the good Lord’s sight that may not even take place in your lifetime.
“Similarly, you shouldn’t crave success. If you ask for financial reward, or peer approval–the worst cross that we scientists have to bear–or even gratitude or appreciation for what you do, you’re asking to be paid for what you should be doing as a freely-given act of love.
“You should do your work because it is a good thing to do. Your reward is not in the results, but in the doing.
“If you can get the fear of failure and the craving for success out of your system, it will leave you with a clearer mind to concentrate on the core of the problem in front of you. You can focus on what really needs to be done, free from all the encumbrances the world would so willingly lay on you–and 90 percent of life’s stresses will drop away.
“Only then will you find true happiness.
“Our mental hospitals are full of people who couldn’t bear failure or bear success,” mused Greatbatch. “That will never happen to me, because I just don’t care! So I say to students in commencement addresses: go forth and select something you want to do that is a good thing in the Lord’s sight. Then study it, work at it, live it. Work harder at it than you have ever worked before. Don’t fear failure and don’t crave success. Just enjoy your total immersion in it.
“And things will work out. The good Lord will smile on your efforts and you’ll be left the happiest person in the world.”
Wilson Greatbatch (F), who received his Fellow award in 1971 “for vital contributions to biomedical engineering,” is an adjunct professor at Cornell University, the State University of New York at Buffalo, and Houghton College, all in New York State.
IEEE Spectrum October 1999 Volume 36 Number 10
(c) Copyright 1999, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.