Failure can often lead to a greater success

I took a leave of absence from my work as a newspaper reporter to serve as a union organizer for The Newspaper Guild years ago. I had helped to negotiate several contracts at the Pottstown Mercury, and only took the job when I was overlooked for being made a copy-editor at the paper.

Spelling and grammar were never my greatest skills and the guy they promoted was a lot better than me in both categories. It hurt never the less, and I guess I used that sense of failure to search for another outlet for the few skills I had developed.

I surprised myself in agreeing to take the job as a union organizer with no experience under my belt save a few songs I seemed to recall about the labor movement. (Woodie Guthrie comes to mind and so does the song about Joe Hill!)


I failed at the one and only National Labor Relations Board election I was able to piece together out of some 25 papers I canvassed over a year-long period. The election was held in Reading for the joint newspapers made up of The Times and the Eagle.

It hurt badly to lose and I used that feeling to go to law school and get a degree to help the union movement and the working class people that I grew up with in Philadelphia.

I wanted to become a labor lawyer.


Surprise, I got a D in labor law and took it as a sign from God to alter my aspirations!

Once again, I used that feeling of failure to seek another avenue for a new career and I went into criminal law, figuring I’d be comfortable with the those types of miscreants, several of whom I had grown up with. I became a public defender, once representing a fellow from Brewerytown that years earlier had got into a fight with and continuously bad-mouthed my oldest brother. I represented that criminal to the best of my ability despite my loathing for him and the crime he was accused of committing.

I went on to complete a 20-year-career at the Philadelphia Defender Association, trying more than a hundred jury trials and winning more than half of them. I felt I finally found my true calling after so many different paths along the journey.

It’s funny how a sense of failure can spur a person on to accomplish something completely different in one’s life. One could believe there is a divine guidance in the Universe if one just opened to it.


A sense of failure doesn’t seem so bad looking back nowadays.

One comment on “Failure can often lead to a greater success

  1. contoveros says:

    The following comments were offered on Facebook:

    Jason Zaczyk
    Joe Hill… sang beautifully by Joan Baez as well.

    Another Joan Baez fan I see. It was this version that I heard and couldn’t believe was sung by her at Woodstock!

    When I was organizing, we held a “Joe Hill Picnic” where I shared Ouzo with everyone. We lost the election, but had a hell of a time “sticking with the union!”

    Jason Zaczyk
    I have heart for folkies… Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Arlo Guthrie & the great Bob Dylan. They had a message to send. Troubadours of their time.

    Andrea Hornett
    Michael J Contos I used to sing Joe Hill to my business students and they had absolutely no idea what any of it was about.

    Andrea Hornett
    Remind me to tell you about the time I met and talked with Joan Baez.


    I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
    Alive as you or me
    Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead,”
    “I never died,” says he.
    “I never died,” says he.

    “In Salt Lake, Joe,” says I to him,
    Him standing by my bed,
    “They framed you on a murder charge,”
    Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead,”
    Says Joe, “But I ain’t dead.”

    “The copper bosses killed you, Joe,
    They shot you, Joe,” says I.
    “Takes more than guns to kill a man,”
    Says Joe, “I didn’t die,”
    Says Joe, “I didn’t die.”

    And standing there as big as life
    And smiling with his eyes
    Says Joe, “What they forgot to kill
    Went on to organize,
    Went on to organize.”

    “Joe Hill ain’t dead,” he says to me,
    “Joe Hill ain’t never died.
    Where working men are out on strike
    Joe Hill is at their side,
    Joe Hill is at their side.”

    From San Diego up to Maine,
    In every mine and mill –
    Where working men defend their rights
    It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.
    It’s there you’ll find Joe Hill.

    I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,
    Alive as you or me
    Says I, “But Joe, you’re ten years dead”,
    “I never died,” says he.
    “I never died,” says he.

    Liked by 1 person

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