ESTILL -- The graduation season is upon us, a time to celebrate success and bask in all the optimism that goes with it.
In caps and gowns and smiles and tassels, this year's graduates embark on a journey that leads down a path of no return, to places unexplored and circumstances unexpected.
And, chances are, they won't all turn out well.
Friday night, I stood here before the Class of 2011 at Patrick Henry Academy, a fresh-faced bunch who had been told of how successful this boy from nearby Allendale had become. Big-city columnist, award-winning author, blah, blah, blah.
I'm sure they expected the usual speech about setting goals and reaching for the stars. But what they got was quite different. It was the rest of the story. Because, when it comes to failure, I'm an expert.
While life looks easy in retrospect, it's more complex when you're actually living it. In fact, it's downright difficult and often takes turns you never anticipated.
So I told these students the unvarnished truth about myself, in hopes they would understand that it's OK to flop. For me, failure has been a companion I've learned to live with.
Like a lot of kids, I suffered the common failures of youth like not being very good at sports. But that was just the beginning.
When I was their age, I was kicked off my high school newspaper for rebelling against authority. I also got kicked off my college newspaper for the same reason, which foretold an interesting pattern.
As a student, I was a complete mess. My teachers said I didn't apply myself. I said I didn't test well. Mainly because I didn't know the answers.
That became painfully obvious when I didn't have four numbers in my SAT score, which meant I had a hard time getting into college and an even harder time getting out. In fact, I flunked out. Eventually, I graduated, but I was dead last in my class. Hey, somebody has to be, right?
Along the way, I picked up a nasty little drinking problem. While alcoholism is not a personal failure, it certainly looks that way when you're living it. Thankfully, I quit drinking at age 30, but not without leaving damage in my wake.
That would be enough for most people, but I wasn't done.
I've always had a love-hate relationship with the newspaper business, leaving it twice for all the wrong reasons. Once I bombed as a salesman. Another time I went broke in public relations.
Then there were the divorces, four of them, of which I was the only common denominator. As a result, I was never nominated for father of the year. Fortunately, my three well-adjusted children gave me a mulligan, for which I'm forever grateful.
Today my resume doesn't list those failures. But they are important pieces of the puzzle that is me.
So remember, it's not that you fail, or even how often you fail, but how you handle failure that ultimately determines your success.