The Fine Art Of Failing

Our failures only hold us back if we don’t engage with them mindfully. Katherine Ellison learned the hard way the value of failing with presence—and recovering with slow accountability.

When I was 23 and just starting out in journalism, I made an awful mistake. While covering a high-profile trial in San Jose, California, I wrote that a woman who hadn’t been charged with any crime had plotted a murder.

The woman I’d wrongly incriminated sued me and my newspaper for libel, demanding $11 million. Had she won, it would have killed my career and financially damaged my employer.

Alas, this wasn’t my first reporting error.

In the preceding weeks I’d made a series of smaller mistakes, mostly getting names and dates wrong, although once I’d quoted a rancher as telling me he had to leave to “shoot a horse” when he’d really said “shoe” a horse. He called the news desk the morning that story appeared to demand a correction, saying his sister worked for the Humane Society and had given him hell.

As these errors piled up, I feared my days at the newspaper were numbered. But I still couldn’t seem to slow down and take the time to check my work. Instead, whenever possible, I blamed the flubs on others. The rancher had mumbled. The copy editor hadn’t done his job. My editors…


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About the author

Katherine Ellison

Katherine Ellison is a Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and author of three books on ADHD, most recently including ADHD: What Everyone Needs to Know, written with Stephen Hinshaw, vice-chair for psychology at the University of California, San Francisco, and published in 2015 by Oxford University Press.