|Statue of Dante, Florence, Italy
Dante Alighieri had a very bad fiscal 1302. His mission to Pope Boniface VIII ended in a betrayal, political rivals burned down his home in Florence and he was forced to flee into exile and condemned to die if he returned, accused of the rather ordinary and unpoetic crime of skimming money off municipal road repairs in his capacity as superintendent of widening and straightening roads, one of the many mundane duties the poet performed for his beloved native city.
But Dante made the best of it. While scrounging his living, he began writing Inferno, the first part of his Divine Comedy, inventing a fiery Hell and meticulously placing his enemies--including Boniface--one by one into it. The public embraced his creation. Dante was celebrated, both in his lifetime and without pause for the next 700 years, lauded as one of most important writers of the modern world, a titan alongside Shakespeare and Cervantes.
All in all, a fair recovery.
We all fall down in our lives at one point or another. Some stay down; others get back up. Failure is such a common human experience that it is difficult to find a general observation about it that doesn't sound trite, like something off a high-school locker room wall. "Winners never quit, and quitters never win." "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." And on and on.
Despite all the truisms about failure, and despite it being universal, we still tend to ignore failure. We leave the disappointments off our resumes, and we overlook them in the lives of others.
How many people, watching Steve Jobs announce the iPhone, the latest hot product from computer giant Apple , paused to remember that he was once a notorious has-been? That in 1985 Jobs was forced out of the company he co-founded before blowing $100 million on NeXT, a start-up computer company that arrived stillborn?
Not many. Because success eclipses failure. We think of George Lucas as the creator of Star Wars, not the guy who produced Howard the Duck. When we see Dustin Hoffman chatting with David Letterman, he is the star of The Graduate and Tootsie, not the star of Ishtar, one of the biggest bombs ever made.
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