Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Freedom in Failure

In my youth (I know I’m still pretty young so lets just say that by youth I mean prior to college) I would try new things with confidence that if I was interested in it I would succeed at it. I have to give credit to my parents for that attitude since they were always encouraging, and I’m pretty sure they have never told me I couldn’t do something. That got me pretty far in life, but when I started college I met with my first failure (by failure I mean that I wasn’t able to do something that I really wanted to do). Worst of all it was in mathematics…up to my first college math class I not only had been the top of the class (not that impressive when there are only 2 in your class until high school) but I always finished with at least 100% in the class. I think in my algebra class I had 108% on the year thanks to extra credit or curving with throwing out the top score.

My math skills were good enough to get me into a calculus class in which everyone else had already had an intro to calculus class before. So when they started talking about derivatives I seriously thought the instructor had lost her mind. For about the first month of the class I thought I was going to completely fail because I had no idea what was going on. Anxiety was rising and had this crippling fear that I wasn’t as good at math as I always thought, but then one day I sat down and just thought about the worst case scenario. I realized even if it turns out that I wasn’t as smart as I thought, the worst thing anyone could do is kick me out of college. I knew I was a hard worker and don’t have a problem taking any job no matter what it is so I’d always be able to put food on the table. This reality allowed me to stop worrying about my “image” and just try to learn. To my surprise everything started to make complete sense and I even managed to finish at the top of the class (not with a 100% though…that was basically impossible after the first day).

Honestly I can look back on my life and realize failure is the key to basically all my successes as well as all my missed opportunities. If I accept the possibility of failure then I usually did as well as I possibly could, but if I was afraid of failure then I simply would either fail or simply not even try. I hate the comment “failure isn’t an option.” It is always an option and a strong possibility if you are actually trying something difficult. Sadly too many people buy into that stupid cliché and then will only try things they are sure they’ll be able to do. One of my mentors at NASA told me that NASA’s biggest problem is that they don’t have enough failures. If they were actually trying really totally new ideas and stretching the limits of science and technology there would be a ton of failed tries (strong support of that is when we were trying to make the first rockets…we failed miserably at first but kept trying). The reality is they will only do things they know they can do that sound or look cool because they feel they no longer can afford to fail.

You can fail and probably will at some point in your life…just don’t let that keep you from trying something else because you just might succeed next time.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Another Prayer

So I know that I haven't been the best updater with my blog (perhaps I should just start each entry with that statement). However I actually do have an excuse for why I've been so delinquent with my internet. I haven't had internet in my apartment since the first of the year. Some may say "Brian why don't you just update from the office where you definitely have internet access?" Now that is a valid point, but the problem is that I no longer live in the office so I typically spend my time just doing work when I'm there. Fortunately, tonight I was able to log onto an unsecured wireless network in my apartment. Since I desperately want to avoid the miserable task of doing my homework I figured I should cease the opportunity to update my blog.

Now there are all kinds of things worthy of being posted, but I'm going to just keep this entry short and sweet with a little more thievery from the book I finished reading last night (I saw the end and kept reading until 3:30am to finish it). The book is the same one that I've commented on in my last couple entries, Prayer: Does it make any difference? by Philip Yancey. Since I love a good pray that is simple but eloquent I'm posting yet another prayer...

O Gracious and Holy Father
Benedict of Nursia
O gracious and holy Father,
give us wisdom to perceive Thee,
intelligence to understand Thee,
diligence to seek Thee,
patience to wait for Thee,
eyes to behold Thee,
a heart to meditate upon Thee,
and a life to proclaim Thee;
through the power of the Spirit
of Jesus Christ our Lord.
I'm currently listening to Eric Clapton and Mary J. Blige playing Not Gon' Cry...seriously it is amazing and everyone should check it out.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Cool Prayer

As mentioned in a previous post, I’m reading Philip Yancey’s Prayer: Does it Make Any Difference? In it he includes excerpts about prayer from others and a few specific prayers. I really like this one so I figured I would post it.

A Franciscan Benediction
May God bless you with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and poor.


Friday, January 12, 2007


I had no idea it was possible to be up later than the internet. The last three things that I've tried to all failed. I tried to send an email and it told me that it was "temporarily unavailable", I tried to pay a parking ticket and its closed until 4am for maintenance, and I tried to watch Weird Al's You're Pitiful video on YouTube (for the second time today) and it said "scheduled downtime." By the way, check out You're is a spoof on James Blunt's You're Beautiful, which I always have thought was the dumbest song ever. Seriously you just saw a stranger walk by and your completely heartbroken over are pitiful.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


I’m currently reading a book by Philip Yancey entitled Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? I think most “good” Christians would quickly say that prayer certainly makes a difference, but how so. Can anyone honestly say that every prayer that they’ve prayed has been answered in a satisfactory way? I was raised with the attitude that a no is just as much of an answer as a yes, but with that attitude pray still doesn’t make sense because God is going to do what He wants regardless. If He is going to do what He wants why bother Him with what we think would be a good idea. This is where I’ve often struggled to understand prayer…what am I asking for. Even when I truly want something with all my heart I pray for it with hesitation because my stronger feeling is that God’s will be done. I may want something to happen, but perhaps if that actually happened it would prevent someone from being saved…do I want it that badly.

In spite of that confusion I pray frequently (probably closer to constantly than periodically). Right now I’m praying for an uncle who has a mysteries health problem, two friend’s fathers who are fighting cancer, close friends that have health problems, my grandfather who is going through a tough time, and the list goes on and on…why? Some groups take the “name it and claim it” attitude, but I certainly don’t understand how they can hold that view. In their opinion if a prayer isn’t answered then the person praying didn’t have enough faith…well then I would like to hear how they explain that Jesus’ prayer to have the cup taken from Him (I’m referencing the Garden of Gethsemane prayer) wasn’t answered…did Jesus not have enough faith at that point. So I certainly don’t pray in hopes that my faith would be strong enough to “force” God’s hand to move.

The stock answer that is given in almost any book about prayer as to why we should pray is that we should because Jesus did. I certainly believe from an intellectual standpoint it is the trump card that says hey if the Son of God prays and says we should then just do it. However on this topic I have more of a personal response (at this point I want to make it clear that prayer is probably the biggest unanswered question for me but I’m going to share my two cents here). For me prayer is my time to share my heart with God…it is kind of like a couple telling each other about their day. So I approach prayer with the attitude that I’m going to tell Him all about those I’m concerned about, where I’m struggling in life, my hopes and dreams, and everything else that I would tell the love of my life. I know He can do miracles, and I do believe that He does miracles. So I will pray for them whole heartedly, but my faith isn’t dependent on how they are answered. I’m simply honored that I’ve been given the privilege of sharing my own life and concerns with the Him.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Three years ago today I moved from Kalamazoo to Ann Arbor. It's interesting to reflect back on how much things have changed in my life over such a short period of time. I’m really amazed at how much personal growth in my life has taken place. I would say the only area of my life that I wish I was taking better care of would be my physical health (not that I’m doing that poor of a job, but I think this has been the longest streak in my life where I haven’t been seriously committed to getting in shape). I decided to transfer to Michigan in large part because I felt that I could have stayed at WMU for my masters without having too much difficulty, but if I went to Michigan there would be a good chance that I would struggle to keep my head afloat.

Even though I told everyone that I wasn't sure if I could make it at Michigan, in my head I was pretty confident that I was going to do great. I envisioned getting all A’s my first semester, convincing a professor to let me join their research group, and basically just cruise right through my masters. I then went to my first few classes and realized that I was sadly mistaken. Probably within a month of that first semester I was quite convinced that I didn’t belong in grad school and was just hoping that I would be able to scrape by and get my degree. I was so fortunate to have gotten a position at Langley Research Center for the summer following my first semester because there I gained confidence that I was at least an average grad student. I then returned to Michigan for the fall semester ready to do much better, but unfortunately my grades were even worse than the first semester. I didn’t loose heart though because during this period I began working for the research group I now work for…it was only hourly but there was a chance for an assistantship if I did a good job. I guess I did good enough work turning wrenches because at the end of the fall semester I was offered the research assistantship (for those that don’t know that means I get paid to go to school).

Ever since that point I’ve done much better in all areas of academia. I even managed to get a 9.0 the following semester (yeah Michigan grad school is weird…it uses a 9 point scale instead of a 4 point scale). The one interesting thing about the grades is that ever since I got the assistantship I haven’t worried at all about grades, but I’ve been getting higher grades (this is really weird if you consider the fact that I miss a lot of class due to work related trips). Actually if I think about that I get a little depressed because I really worked hard to get those lower grades. I think one possibility for this is that during the first two semesters I really didn’t believe that I could make it…so instead of just working hard I was always wondering if I belonged. I actually think this maybe the biggest advantage to me coming to Michigan for grad school…if I had stayed at WMU I would always being wondering if my success (assuming I would have done well) was only the result of being at a smaller university (I mean no disrespect to WMU here…I love the school and received a fine education from them).

I doubted if I had made the right decision coming to Michigan for over a year, but now I know it was the right thing to do. I say that not only for the reasons listed above but also for numerous other reasons.