Avatar photo

Peter Millett

Ambassador to Libya, Tripoli

Part of FCDO Outreach

26th February 2013

Try, Try Again

Last week we celebrated Burns Night, the traditional gathering of the clans to commemorate the great Scottish poet who was born into a poor farming family, but is now the literary hero of a nation. He had to struggle to gain acceptance and appreciation and faced bankruptcy and failure many times.

I was reminded of another Scottish hero, Robert the Bruce, who failed in war but who is remembered for the phrase: “If at first you don’t succeed: try, try again!”  Bruce was King of Scotland in the 14th century, fighting long battles with the English for control of Scotland. He was defeated in battle many times and eventually ran away to a remote island off the coast of Ireland where he lived in a cave.

One day, while sitting depressed in the corner of the cave, he watched a spider trying to start to weave a web. The spider launched itself across the cave to reach the other side and start to spin the web. Time and time again the spider failed to reach the other side of the cave, almost reaching his goal. But it didn’t give up and kept trying.

After many attempts, it was successful, clung onto the other side of the cave and started to spin its web.

Bruce was inspired. He realised that feeling sorry for himself and accepting failure was undignified. He emerged from the cave, gathered his army and set out to defeat the English. And at the Battle of Banockburn in 1314, he forced the English Army to retreat. Bruce was recognised as the King of an independent Scotland. He had achieved his goal. And secured his place in history and legend.

The moral of the story is that there is no shame in failure. Indeed, failure can be good. Trying and failing with honour and dignity is certainly better than giving up or making half-hearted attempts. Indeed, the biggest kind of failure is to concede defeat and return to mediocrity.

This lesson is directly relevant to business. Many start-ups fail. There’s nothing wrong with that. Many of the most successful businessmen and businesswomen have a couple of crashed businesses under their belt. But they didn’t let one collapse deter them. They learnt from that failure, understood better how to build a successful enterprise and tried again.

And maybe again.

Eventually, like Bruce’s spider, they found the right formula for success, built up and grew their company to achieve their goal.

Taking risks is part of daily life. Sometimes risks will bring success, prosperity and added dignity; but sometimes they bring failure. Any young person thinking of starting a business should not worry about what their friends or family will think of them. And anyone with a budding entrepreneur in the family should not try to hold them back for fear of risking the prestige of the family.

A son or daughter starting out in business is like a baby starting to walk. When a baby falls down after a few first faltering steps, should the parents stop trying? Of course not: continuing to encourage the baby will inevitably lead to the child walking and then running and then doing somersaults.

Any young person trying to start a business needs to take risks and not be scared of failure. Just like the baby walking, and just like the spider spinning it’s web, people starting out in business will have to Try and Try Again.

4 comments on “Try, Try Again

  1. I totally agree with you, I remembered very well that situation when I had visited Reading in 2011 with auspices of B.C , I was waiting the bus for 10 minutes though that I keep watching the worker carrying just four brick every time and returned backed to carry another group , I’m sure he was able to do more each turn but he organize that to keep running , that the sole of heritage nation .

  2. I totally agree with you Mr Millet. But unfortunately it may not fully work in third world countries where corruption,favourism, social hierarchies and tribalism overwhelm creativity,skill and initiatives.

  3. Dear Peter, thanks a lot for drawing attention to one of these “BIG TOLDERS ” again- the immortal Poet Burn. But much more notable to me are your lines about Robert the Bruce.Esp. his phrase .”…if at 1st. you don ‘t succeed try, try again.Although written in the – I guess- 14 th century it ‘s timeless for me. Within this context : What a great chapter to read about this “Spider-Story !” And today ? Today it doesn ‘t matter if you ‘re a manager, politican or worker.
    We all do fail in our lives. This isn ‘t really a shame. It ‘s only a shame if you don ‘t satnd up again and work.Swabians would call it in a similar way : ” Keine Schande hinzufallen-aber eine grosse nicht wieder gehen zu lernen…”. To conclude : You could also easily transfer “TRY AGAIN” in re. of these endless peace negotiations between Israel and Jordan or Palestine. For- if the last round failed keep cool and peaceful and start a next table-round again. Try it again. It ‘s anyway better as fighting.
    Bw, Ingo-Steven Wais, Stuttgart

Comments are closed.

About Peter Millett

Peter arrived in Tunis on 23 June 2015 to take up his post as Ambassador to Libya. Previously he was British Ambassador to Jordan from February 2011 to June 2015. He was High Commissioner to…

Peter arrived in Tunis on 23 June 2015 to take up his post as
Ambassador to Libya.
Previously he was British Ambassador to Jordan from February 2011 to June 2015.
He was High Commissioner to Cyprus from 2005 – 2010.
He was Director of Security in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
from 2002-2005, dealing with all aspects of security for British
diplomatic missions overseas.
From 1997-2001 he served as Deputy Head of Mission in Athens.
From 1993-96 Mr Millett was Head of Personnel Policy in the FCO.
From 1989-93 he held the post of First Secretary (Energy) in the UK
Representative Office to the European Union in Brussels, representing
the UK on all energy and nuclear issues.
From 1981-1985 he served as Second Secretary (Political) in Doha.
Peter was born in 1955 in London.  He is married to June Millett and
has three daughters, born in 1984, 1987 and 1991.  
His interests include his family, tennis and travel.