How I Earned My Ph.D in Disaster Recovery over 7 Years

If you’ve ever been to a live show of a famous act, say U2, it seems like they do everything perfectly and effortlessly.
It turns out that even bands like U2 make mistakes. They just know how to cover them really well so that you don’t know you’re seeing one.

I sing and play guitar in a band for a few hundred people each week at our church. I’ve been doing this for the past seven years or so, and it’s really helped me become comfortable performing in front of larger crowds.

Ironically, the performances that have helped me most aren’t the good ones, but rather the times I’ve failed. (You can’t really tell how comfortable you are with performing in front of people until you’ve failed numerous times.) And there are times when no matter how much preparation you put into something, something weird happens.

For example, last week my guitar strap plug popped out of the guitar in the middle of a song. This meant that my left hand had to grab the guitar as it swung outward, leaving me holding the guitar outstretched while singing. I managed to grab the loose end of the strap and reattach it to the guitar and pull the strap back on, all without having to stop the song or bring too much attention to myself. (In fact, my band mates didn’t even see it happen and they were right next to me.)

I call this a “resounding success” when you finish the song while avoiding disaster.

As I’ve become more aware of my failures and ability to respond to them, I’ve figured out that you can’t keep a cool head without a few key elements:

  1. You’ve done it before
  2. You can laugh at yourself or the situation

If you can do both of these things, you’ve reached the point that you’re comfortable with failure.

You’ve done this before

About 5 years ago something like my strap becoming unplugged in the middle of a song with hundreds of people watching would have made me drop to the floor, curl into the fetal position and start sucking my thumb. Now, because I’ve failed so many times before, I know a few things. I know that most people won’t notice (if I stay calm) and I also know that nobody really cares.

I’ve botched chords, forgotten words, and can’t count the times I’ve started songs in the wrong key. I’ve seen pretty much everything, and nothing really surprises me too much when it happens.

You can’t become comfortable with failing unless you’ve failed before, and you can’t fail unless you TRY SOMETHING. Over and over. Seven years of failing on a semi-regular basis every week means I’m pretty good at recovering at disaster when it happens.

You can laugh at yourself, right?

The key is being able to recover, and at the very worst, laugh about it and start over.

You have to remember that people generally want to help you. They want you to succeed. I learned quickly that failure is actually really endearing to people if you’re able to laugh at yourself. Fortunately, this comes really easy to me, and it proves that I’m not a robot.

Laughter is, after all, the best medicine.

Disaster can go down at any time, no matter how prepared you are. You might start the song in the wrong key, you might misspell an important person’s name, or you might accidentally offend someone.

Laugh it off, get used to the feeling, and try again. If you’re trying to become excellent at what it is you do, this won’t be the last time you fall on your face.

Take it from Dr. Disaster ;)

Leave a Comment

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Williamsam April 16, 2012, 3:41 am

    LOL man i tried it for almost 6 yrs but evry time i failed :P 

    aieee 2012 admit card 

  • Hotell vid Arlanda January 22, 2012, 5:06 am

    I wish I could be able to recover from disaster since this post reminds me I have a lot of things to do in completing my masteral degree. But if disaster is about ordinary things to me then I guess it wouldn’t hurt to laugh about it and learn from it. Thanks for the great tips.

  • Anonymous September 21, 2011, 2:02 pm

    This reminds me of the time, senior year of high school, when one of the most talented performers in my class got on stage in front of the entire school and began singing. Halfway through the song, she paused … paused … and then, with FULL confidence, burst into a lovely, melodic note that sang, “I forgot the words!” Everyone applauded.

    Imagine if she had just run off stage in tears. It would have been a disaster. But instead, she rolled with the punches, and it became — in many ways — an even better, more memorable performance.

    • Rob September 21, 2011, 2:46 pm

      @Paula_at_AffordAnything:disqus That is an awesome memory. I will share that story. I’m guessing it has served her well over the years. Lemons to lemonade.

  • Rob August 16, 2011, 9:21 pm

    My favorite post of yours…okay, the only one I’ve read so far :)
    But, now I will read more.
    My daughter plays in front of crowds (mainly at church). She sings and plays piano. The average person does not hear a random mistake here or there. We taught her to keep playing through it, and she has.

    And, she is better for the mistakes.
    Thanks my friend.  

    • Glen Stansberry August 17, 2011, 3:15 pm

      Thanks Rob! I took piano lessons as a wee lad and was also taught to play through the mistakes. So counterintuitive, but it’s paid off! :)

  • Chris Dame August 16, 2011, 6:01 am

    Great article, Glen!

    People seem to forget that it’s not the strongest or most intelligent that survive, it’s the most adaptable. Being able to use change to your advantage and laugh about it? Priceless.

    Not to toot my own horn, but here’s an article about how these philosophies help you become a better traveler, as well!


  • Patricia Lyons August 15, 2011, 2:19 pm

    It is always the best option to learn from our mistakes and always good to remember to forgive ourselves for messing up, to remember the lesson. I love the quote in my boss’s office,”Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves as they will always be amused” Glen, you are very wise for a young one. I like your attitude.

    • Glen Stansberry August 15, 2011, 4:30 pm

      Thanks Patricia.That’s a great quote! I’m always amused ;)

  • Tia Tuenge August 13, 2011, 1:41 pm

    What a great post Glen! Thank you. I recently started working as a producer and I’ve been making one mistake after another. At first it was totally unnerving and I was beating myself up over it, but then I realized “hey you’ve never done this before just fix it and move on”. Your words are words of wisdom. Love and Light, Tia

    • Glen Stansberry August 13, 2011, 8:43 pm

      Thanks Tina. It’s freeing to realize that nearly nobody does it right the first time :)

  • Vic Lawrence August 12, 2011, 3:43 pm


    Disaster recovery is a great skill to have. It can only be learn through
    countless times of feeling like you want to curl up in the fetal position.

    • Glen Stansberry August 12, 2011, 5:33 pm

      Hey, it takes skill to fail like I’ve failed ;)