Challenge Yourself, Realise your dreams, True Stories

The only good photo of his son

Following the suggestion of a friend, I’m adding an example to the previous challenge, of a small routine task going as wrong as can be. The story is sad and full of emotions, not really something I want to coldly dissect. Still I decided to post it, for two reasons:

One: I was looking for something to contrast the “my first post” example. The factors which contribute to the realisation of a certain result are always there, obvious or hidden, no matter how serious and important or silly and insignificant the outcome may seem.

Two: I think this story stands for situations most of us can relate to, where our personal failure causes pain, hurts someone else, and where we have no chance to make up for it in any way.

The story

A few years ago I was working in a small-town bookshop where apart from books we also sold office and art supplies, made photocopies and so on. One day a customer came in and asked if we could laminate a photo. Of course, I said, no problem.

The customer, a man in his late fifties perhaps, was very anxious about me not ruining the photo. While the machine was warming up he told me that recently his son had died, only twenty-and-some years old. The photo I was inserting in a laminating sleeve was the only good photo he had of him. He wanted it protected because he kept it with him in his wallet and took it out many times a day.

I felt so sorry for him… His talk wasn’t distracting me from the small task at hand, nor was I nervous, but the man’s emotions, his deep sadness had a strong impact on me. I wanted to give him exactly what he desired, a safeguard to his memories of his son as represented by the photo, and I wanted to do a perfect job.

Now, with laminating I don’t think I ever was concerned about the quality of the result, by default it turned out as it was supposed to. I knew which possible mistakes to avoid and in this case I even double-checked what I did.

Then the photo turned slightly sideways, got stuck and overheated; I never found out why, maybe one of the transporters didn’t catch on. All I could do was pull it back out and cut off the loose plastic, about halfway down the portrait at mouth height. It was beyond repair.

I was at a loss for words except for stammering “I’m so sorry” a few times. The man had tears in his eyes and couldn’t speak. He took the photo and walked out, bent, slowly, without strength to lift his feet, as if he had lost his son a second time. How did I feel? Guess…

If you’re not in the mood for an unemotional analysis, don’t

The factors for success and failure in detail

(+) what went right, contributed to success, or reduced the probability of failure
(-) what went wrong or contributed to failure

  • Choice:
    (+) only. Choice is when we create the all over goal, so by default it contributes to success. Choice is merely the decision to do it, independent of doubts and confidence. I decided to laminate the photo myself rather than ask the customer to come back when my boss was there. I accepted the responsibility.
  • Clarity:
    (+) Not difficult to imagine: laminate a photo.
    (-) My own strong emotions impaired my clarity. My compassion raised the stakes by magnifying a small task to something of great importance to someone else and myself. I did not have the inner distance to see it for what it was.
  • Confidence:
    (+) Lack of confidence was not an issue; I had no doubts about being able to laminate a photo as I had done it before, successfully.
    (-) I was over-confident, perhaps even smug. I said “of course, no problem” not to reassure the customer, but because I was slightly annoyed that he doubted my ability. I didn’t take his question “can you laminate a photo” for an inquiry about which services we offered at the shop, as in “do you laminate photos”. Instead, my pride misinterpreted the question, took it for an attack.
  • Specific request:
    (+) To laminate the photo and to do it well.
    (-) I overreacted on this one, too, by turning a simple job into a work of perfection. The default special request magnifying glass turned in to a microscope.
  • Endeavour:
    (+) Focused intent was there; double-checking made a successful outcome more probable.
    (-) I over-focused; symptoms: furrowed brows, hot face, sweaty hands, possibly blocking perception and certainly the ability to think objectively.
  • Persistence:
    (+) Failure, the photo getting stuck, put a sudden end to persistence, but at least I cut off the remaining plastic to make the best of what I got.
  • Serenity:
    (-) Next to none. I was so immersed in the sadness of the customer and in my compassion for him that it didn’t even cross my mind to step out of it, have at least a mental break which would have enabled Neutral Balance Mode at least for as long as it took me to finish the job.
  • Self-transcendence:
    (-) At the time, lack of experience (or rather of trust in the Transcendental Network*) kept me from doing what I would do now: Ask my True Self and if necessary the Network for help with successfully completing the job. *Note: What I call Transcendental Network is what you might call Universal Flow, God, All That Is, …, through which we are all connected with everyone and everything else.
  • Gratitude:
    You can bet that I felt no gratitude about the outcome, not at the time and not for a long time afterwards. Whenever a similar job came up I was nervous and my confidence converged towards zero. But eventually I came to realise that this memory could act as an instant reminder any time I was about to repeat the basic mistakes, that is not paying adequate attention to the factors. Now I am grateful for this failure: It helped me to take a big step forward in my development, and it also made me tolerant of others’ mistakes, made it easy to forgive.

Challenge yourself

There’s no new challenge today, but, if you like, why not revisit one of your failures now that I have given you my example? 

By the way, the purpose of these challenges is to help you to increase your awareness and perhaps to discover certain patterns in your actions and reactions. These patterns are often not limited to specific activities but reach across different life areas. Example: If you tend to over-focus you’ll likely do so when learning, at your work place, with your hobby, … –  I would not recommend dealing analytically with every single issue.

Enjoy your journey!



8 thoughts on “The only good photo of his son”

    1. Thank you, Paula, for your comment and for subscribing. 🙂

      Yes, you’re right, gratitude is very important. We tend to see only what we haven’t got, but gratitude makes us aware of what we have.


  1. Beautiful post Maria… I don’t know what I would have done… apologies would be in order first and then the rest… My prayer is that the man was able to forgive you and make peace with the outcome. Your gratitude in learning from such a painful lesson is a good thing…. 🙂
    Again, I’m catching up on blog comments after another long 4 day yoga retreat in Boston… I got back Thursday night to over a thousand emails. Will begin a marathon commenting effort shortly! TY! 🙂

    1. Thank you, Elizabeth 🙂
      On this special bone I’ve been gnawing for a couple of years… I can only hope and wish that, apart from forgiving me, my customer found a way to turn around my mistake and to learn and benefit from it as I have done.
      Thousand emails…I can’t even imagine what such an inbox looks like :-/ Thank you for still taking the time to comment.
      As the Greek say: Kali dynami! (much strength)

  2. What an insightful metacognitive exercise! Last week I observed a film director’s class at the Savannah College of Art and Design. The professor took a short film and broke it down into a linear diagram where each scene shifted somehow from +, to -, or vice-versa. For a film to evolve and unfold in a way that maintains the viewers interest, these shifts are absolutely necessary. The exercise was similar to your binary reflection, but the benefits of looking inward in this way didn’t occur to me until now. Thank you.

    1. Thank you, Cameron, for your comment. I’m glad you find this exercise helpful.
      I don’t know much about films or filming, so I never heard about the analysis you write about, but the result doesn’t surprise me. Life is about growth, and growth about change. Too much of one thing is tiring and even boring. Sure, it’s nice when all goes well for a while and necessary to recharge our energies, but then what? We begin to create our problems because we need challenges and risks, and the choice between extremes to remain interested, to feel alive. 😉

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