Ruben Navarrette: Success is easy to deal with. Let's be thankful for failure.

Ruben Navarrette: Instead of working ourselves into the ground trying to give them the tools to succeed, let's give them something really priceless: the skills to survive, and even thrive, when they fail.

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette commentary
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SAN DIEGO -- This holiday weekend, I'm thankful that I've learned how to fail.

Stop right there. If you're the kind of person who always gets what you want, never gets turned down, has never lost a job, and has never failed at anything, this column is not for you.

My peeps are different. We know from painful experience that life roughs you up good before the final bell, and what counts is how you take the beating.

In fact, I've become an expert at failing. This year marks my 30th anniversary of writing for newspapers, and so I've had a lot of practice.

Given the tumult that envelops my profession, many of my colleagues and I have had to become skilled at surviving setbacks -- whether it's being laid off, or having your workload triple, or watching your newspaper turn off its presses. Journalism has seen better days. Ten years ago, I was laid off from my last full-time newspaper job, and I've lost a half dozen other part-time jobs since then. The only constant in my business is chaos.


My friends in radio and television are going through their own challenges, as they compete with digital streaming and hundreds of thousands of podcasts for the fleeting attention of viewers and listeners.

These days, if you make your living in media, Plan A is a crapshoot. You had better have a Plan B, and maybe even a Plan C and D.

I've been luckier than most. I've taken my lumps, with folks on the right and left pestering my bosses to fire me. Being a national journalist is one thing, but there is nothing like working in the local market -- like I did in Phoenix, Dallas and San Diego -- to make you feel as if your job is not secure.

Once I had the goods on a local power broker who was doing something shady, and I wrote a fire-breathing column that scorched him. Turns out, the big wig was buddies with my publisher. Surprise. I lost my column. So I resigned and went to graduate school.

Still, I've had plenty of work. I get fired from one job, and there are two or three more around the corner.

But I've also made my own luck by learning how to pull myself back up when I get knocked down.

I see opportunities everywhere because, unlike many of my often-myopic cohort, I look everywhere. I avoid self-imposed obstacles. If someone doesn't take a pitch, I pitch elsewhere. I get out of my comfort zone. If I want to pick up a new skill, I study those who have been doing it for years.

I get asked by young people who want to go into journalism whether it's a fool's errand and a recipe for heartbreak.


No, I tell them. Follow your passion, especially when you're young. If you want to tell stories, there are plenty of stories yet to tell.

But, I also warn them, these days you have to diversify your skill sets. It's not enough to be a good writer. You have to be good at broadcasting on radio, appearing on television, standing at a podium, etc.

When I wrote my first newspaper op-ed in 1989, the media was segmented into tribes. There were the newspaper folks, the radio crew, the TV people and the live performers. Everyone was communicating with the public, yet no one knew how to do anyone else's job but their own It was different for me. I was an author before I was giving speeches, and giving speeches before I was on radio, and on radio before I went on television, and on television before I got a column.

And I've kept doing all those things for three decades. You know that guy in the circus who runs back and forth, frantically spinning plates at the end of sticks? That's me. It'll drive you mad, but it beats working for a living.

Sure, I've been knocked down -- and then stepped on when I was down.

And I'm blessed to live in a country where you're allowed more than one at-bat, and striking out now and then doesn't put you out of the game.

No matter what your profession, the struggle is real. But the wisdom it provides is worth passing on to our kids. Instead of working ourselves into the ground trying to give them the tools to succeed, let's give them something really priceless: the skills to survive, and even thrive, when they fail.

Ruben Navarrette can be reached at

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