Barbara Walters retired last week. While I find her to be grating at times, she is certainly due much respect and kudos for being a pioneer in the news business. I watched some of her farewell coverage, and one thing stood out among many significant things she has accomplished in her life:
Her epic failure.
In a groundbreaking move for 1976, she was paid an annual salary of one million dollars to co-anchor the nightly news with Harry Reasoner. He was ticked that she was earning twice his buck, plus he hadn’t been asked if he even wanted a co-anchor—let along a woman. (Anchorman, anyone?)
He didn’t hide his disdain. In the video below (click the pic), they give a quick summary of the relationship. In this day and age of the “photoshop mentality,” where we gloss over everything to make it look the “best” it can be, I find his raw contempt remarkable.
The ratings tanked and the duo failed. I’m sure in part it was due to the anti-chemistry that Reasoner created, but Barbara herself has said that news anchor wasn’t her strength. Later that year, she found the very thing that would turn her career around—the Barbara Walters Specials that became a resident part of our pop culture.
But first she failed miserably and nationally.
It was kind of like she got pantsed for the whole world to see.
On top of that, first Gilda Radner and then Cheri Oteri did hilarious parodies of her, too. It was easy to laugh at her—she was Barbara Waawaa.
I can’t imagine what that must have been like. My feelings can get hurt if someone doesn’t like the gift I thought they’d love, and here she is being patronized by a coworker and made fun of for her speech impediment on national TV.
I certainly wouldn’t have blamed her if she just licked her wounds and said “enough.”
But she didn’t. She just kept working at it. She developed her skills and found the perfect niche for her abilities.
Flash forward nearly 40 years, and as part of her recent tribute, women currently in the national news industry came out to say thanks to her for paving the way for them. Scores of women. It was an amazing testament to the impact that Barbara Walters has made.
I wonder if she hadn’t failed as that news anchor…would she still have accomplished all that she did? I know there’s no way to really know that, but…I wonder.
Failure can indeed propel us toward fortune. I don’t just mean monetary fortune, but the fortune of our calling…our creativity…our heart. When we fall, we have to make that decision to get up or give up. When we choose to get up, we do so knowing that we could fall again. We consciously decide it’s worth it, even with the pain of falling.
And yet it is so hard to risk it. At least it is for me. I’m not a fan of getting pantsed. I’m not a fan of falling on my face. But if I only choose a path where I can ring up successes, then the path must be pretty flat and probably leads nowhere.
For several years I helped out with our school’s rollerblading unit for our younger grades. So many wobbly little ones trying to stay upright. Often I would tell a child, “You know what I think is the best thing to do to get over your fear of falling? Fall.” They would look up at me like “Who is this crazy lady helping me?!” but then I would tell them how once they fell, they would know what it feels like…and maybe it wouldn’t be so scary anymore.
Inevitably, they would indeed fall, and if I was there to help them up, I would ask, “So…what do you think about falling now?” and they would typically say “It’s not so bad!”
Of course, there are falls that you don’t bounce back up from. Some that can really break you, and I don’t mean to sugarcoat life’s devastating falls.
But Barbara Walter’s public failure is a great reminder to me that failure can be the first step on the road to fulfillment.
I need to let my wobbly little self continually put on my metaphorical roller blades and have at it. Hopefully every time I fall I’ll look up and say, “It’s not so bad!” And if it is bad, let’s hope there’s someone around who knows how to dial 911!