Savor success. Forget failure.


My son already has experience taking care of an animal and selling it. Last year, his 4-H project was pigs. He showed them, then he sold them, and we even went to the carcass show, which is where fifty people go into a meat freezer with a agriculture professor and find out why one kid’s carcass got a blue ribbon and one kid’s got a white ribbon.

If you guessed marbling, you guessed right. But the Farmer says this is an outdated way to look at meat. He says you get lots of marbling from feeding animals corn instead of letting them graze on the grass, but corn feed is like candy feed because there’s so little nutrition.

Okay. So even though we fundamentally disagree with the carcass show judging process, my son did take care of animals and then kill them, which is no small feat for a kid transplanted from New York City to rural Wisconsin.

In fact, I’d have to say that by now, my son’s childhood is more like the Farmer’s than mine. For instance, I walked out the back porch one day, and I saw my son chopping wood with an ax. Where I grew up, swinging an ax is like swinging a gun. Dangerous and only for crazy people.

So the Farmer and I agree to disagree, and when my son swings an ax over his head, I turn the other way. And pray.

I defer to the Farmer when it’s time to sell the goat. He says it’s fine to keep goats as pets, but we cannot keep having babies if we are not selling them.

My son likes the babies, so he agrees to sell one of the males so we can get the two females pregnant. He is selling Samuel, our favorite goat.

I try not to dwell on the favorite part. But we climb into the trailer and give him kisses goodbye before we start our trip to the auction house.

My son understands that if he is going to learn how to operate on the farm, he needs to stay far away from me. So when it’s time to sell his first goat, he rides in the truck with the Farmer. I follow along in my car

My son is excited. He feels grown up. And he does calculations to figure out how much money he’ll make from the sale.

At the auction barn, there are lots of goats. My son and I are curious. We get out of the car. We traipse around. The Farmer tells us not to get muck on our shoes. Muck is not the word he uses. Probably manure or something like that. There is lots of muck at the sale barn and the farmer does not want us tracking biohazards back to the farm.

Our farm is locked-down, or whatever the word is for the Farmer not letting other farm animal stuff onto our farm because of diseases. He has disease-free herds of pigs and cattle and surely that is from living for 20 years by himself. But I don’t say that. I just try hard to watch where I step.

I am concerned about how the animals are treated and I want to take pictures. I snap a few and the Farmer tells me that if they catch me we will not be able to sell the goat. PETA has come there. Or some PETA sympathizer types. In rural America PETA is a catch-all term for all people who are bothersome.

I take pictures while the Farmer is figuring out who is next and what we need to do to get Samuel into the holding pen.

I love when the Farmer takes charge. When we are fighting I tell him that I don’t need him to run a farm. I could run a farm by myself just fine. But the truth is that having him around makes my life so much more fun. I get to pick my head up and look around instead of sweating the logistical details of each step we make.

Samuel is scared, and I am scared watching Samuel be scared. We have protected him for so long. Someone left him to freeze in sub-zero temperatures two winters ago. We saved him. He is looking at us now, nuzzling our hands, assuming we are doing something good for him.

I look away so I don’t cry. I try to look away like I am curious and I sell beloved family pets for slaughter all the time.

My son answers the questions that the sale barn guy asks about breed, and age, and feed. My son knows everything about the goat but gets stumped when the sale barn guy asks for our zip code.

Right after, the Farmer puts his hand on my son’s back and says, “Nice job.”

My son is quiet. I know something is up because when the Farmer says nice job about something farm related, my son usually beams with pride.

The Farmer tells us to walk up to the auction room and wait for Samuel to come out for bidding. “See how much you get for him!” The Farmer says as he heads off to park our truck.

I walk with my son to the auction room but on the way, he starts crying.

Then I start crying. I say, “Do you want to bring Samuel home?”

“No. It’s too late.”

“It’s not too late.”

The Farmer sees us crying. He pulls me aside. He says, “It’s too late. Don’t encourage him by you crying, too.”

“He wants Samuel back.”

“He’s just sad. It’s part of the process of learning to farm.”

I turn to my son, “Do you want to take Samuel home?”

My son says yes.

The Farmer is so upset he has to go out to the truck.

I call to him. “Don’t be upset! I’m sorry!”

He says, “You can’t take an animal back. They don’t do that. It’s already processed in their system.”

“I can get Samuel back.”

The Farmer keeps walking to the truck.

I find the auctioneer. I tell him we are from New York City and we can’t sell our favorite goat and I am crying and my son is crying and they stop the auction and give us the goat back.

Then we are in the parking lot. Me, my son, and Samuel. Samuel is a bio-hazard now. He has poop from 100 other goats on his hoofs. I tell the Farmer I’ll put Samuel in the back seat of my car and we can give him a bath when we get him.

The Farmer looks down. Shakes his head. Laughs. He says, “No. Put him in the trailer. Let’s just bring Samuel home.”

This is the moment, right here, that determines what kind of person you are. If you see failure, you are a failure. And of course, failure is easy to see. We are not learning to be farmers. We are bringing bio-hazards onto the farm, and I’ve undermined the Farmer’s work teaching my son how to raise animals for slaughter.

There is success, too. There is the Farmer adjusting to our discomfort with farm life. He used to be much more rigid with us, and we would probably have had a big fight about this earlier in our relationship. I am helping my son to act on his emotions instead of hiding them. And, of course, we have Samuel back at the farm, and we love him.

Moments like this are so common in worklife. We can see success or we can see failure. We can choose. The right choice is to savor success and forget failure. That gives you energy to keep learning and trying new things. It gives you confidence to believe in your abilities. And remembering failure might seem educational to you—but it’s not. It’s a downer. So just forget it.

The Farmer usually approaches life this way, but this time, I wasn’t sure. Until we stopped for gas. My son wanted snacks. For himself and for Samuel. So we bought sunflower seeds, and while gas was pumping, the Farmer and my son stood at the back of the truck munching on seeds and sharing with Samuel.

When we got home, the other two goats were right there waiting, eyes glued to the trailer, looking for Samuel.

And when Samuel came out, everyone knew that the goats were now pets. So we compromised and got only one goat pregnant. We are learning how to be farmers, with some pets on the side. And the Farmer is learning how to raise a family, with some pets on the side.

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  1. Traci Wheeler
    Traci Wheeler says:

    Penelope – I just read your post. I laughed out loud reading it. It reminds me so much of my family – we have two boys, ages 9 & 7, and our life and the experiences we have with our two boys. Thanks for keeping it real! And good for you keeping the goats!

  2. M. Tripp
    M. Tripp says:

    Wait, why are you doing this????? Just because this farmer guy likes to raise and kill animals, you think your kid should too? But wait, you don’t think it’s a good idea either? So again, why are you doing this?

    • BrieCS
      BrieCS says:

      She is allowing her kid to 1) develop a relationship with the male figure in his life, 2) choose what he wants to do (and it appears to definitely be something he wants to do), and 3) learn about a different way of life, while not compromising the things that he values.

      I think this is one of the few times I’ve looked at something Penelope wrote and fully identified with it, and agreed with her choice to allow her kid to do something like this, and strike the balance between learning to be a farmer and still learning when it’s time to keep an animal as a pet.

  3. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I am so glad you didn’t sell Samuel because if you had I would be crying. Which is a purely selfish reason for you not selling Samuel, of course, but I am at work and I cannot quite blame crying on allergies– and since we’re at the point now when lawmakers over in Arizona want to make it legal to fire women for using birth control I am trying my best not to do anything that makes it easier to be discriminated against just for having a uterus.

    Also, I am so good at seeing failure and so bad at seeing success– I always need to be reminded to look at things from this perspective.

  4. Patricia
    Patricia says:

    I was so scared for Samuel. Now I am relieved. And crying. I think you said something about success and failure, but I’ll have to read the post again for that part. Right now I’m just happy to be able to breathe again.

  5. Colleen
    Colleen says:

    Wonderful story! It made me cry. I think what happened was a complete success–if your son does choose to be a farmer he’ll be a happier one for knowing he can trust and act on his emotions, no matter what.

  6. Frankie Pray
    Frankie Pray says:

    Damn good story. Raw, earthy, vivid, unadorned. You seem very female, and the Farmer, very male, and the realties of how these forces play out in the dirty business of life is clear from this tale. In a strange way, the Farmer reminds me of Maximus in “Gladiator.” He has a soft side, but he gets the job done. I wonder how your son will tell this story 20 or 30 years from now.

  7. Kate Cooper
    Kate Cooper says:


    LOVED this post! It reminds me of my Mom. She remarried a few years ago after my Dad passed. Her first year living on a working farm, the new husband said it was time to take the chickens to the sale since they weren’t producing eggs anymore. She loaded them and went to the sale with him but ended up insisting on keeping one of the “girls”, Rosie. Rosie has a forever home now even though she rarely gives an egg. Thanks for posting!

  8. CtReporter
    CtReporter says:

    This story touched me for some reason. Probably because for the last year I’ve been living with my boyfriend and his two teenage boys, 15 and 16 yrs old. We don’t have animals, but I think teenage germs should be classified as a bio-hazard. I keep telling myself it’s good for my immune system.

  9. Corinne
    Corinne says:

    I would also be crying if the story ended with the sale of Samuel. I’m so happy you took him home! He’s lucky to have a family that loves him so much.

  10. Laurel on the Beach
    Laurel on the Beach says:

    I agree with the other comments– great post & great life lesson. Keep up the good work, Penelope. Your writing seems MUCH happier and it looks like the Farmer is too ;)

  11. Carolyn
    Carolyn says:

    This is one of my favorite posts ever and I have been following you forever. What a beautiful story.

  12. meistergedanken
    meistergedanken says:

    Harriet May wrote:”I am so glad you didn’t sell Samuel because if you had I would be crying. Which is a purely selfish reason for you not selling Samuel, of course, but I am at work”

    Why are you reading this blog at work? Shouldn’t you be working? If I were your boss I’d fire you – not because you “have a uterus”, but because you are not being productive.

    • Jamie
      Jamie says:

      Good grief! You have no idea what type of work Harriet does (I have a friend whose job is to purposefully peruse other websites, for example) nor where she was when she wrote this—perhaps in the lunchroom, surrounded by coworkers. What is it Penelope says? BE KIND.

    • Harriet May
      Harriet May says:

      Thanks Jamie and Irv. To “meistergedanken”: I am subscribed by email to Penelope’s blog. It takes me a few minutes to read and comment, a sort of quick “mental break” if you will that actually makes me more productive in the long run (at the Huffington Post, for example, they have napping rooms because they see the value in this sort of thing)– it is not something I am penalized for because fortunately I don’t work for the Gestapo.

  13. karelys
    karelys says:

    When we geared up to roll with our business idea I wanted to protect us (mentally and emotionally) by expecting all kinds of failures and embracing them. Even thinking “if this fails then we’ll still gain so much because we’ll at least learn a lot of things about business and ourselves.”

    But expecting failure doesn’t make it easier to deal with the set backs. And so this week has been difficult.

    Your post is a really good reminder. And it reminds me of my mom. She seems like a delusional woman. She seems like she only picks the good things to remember. But maybe that’s the reason she’s so resilient and happy despite all the setbacks.

    This post is pretty amazing. Thank you.

  14. Cristina
    Cristina says:

    What a great post! I’m glad that Samuel is officially a family pet now, I can imagine it’s really hard to have animals that tread the line between pets and livestock. What a lucky little goat.

  15. sophie
    sophie says:

    This story reminds me of the book “The Land Remembers,” by Ben Logan. He writes about growing up on a farm in the 1920-30s in the driftless area of Wisconsin.

    His father wanted a maple tree cut down because it was old and could fall on the house. However, the tree was where everyone always gathered. It held great meaning to the family. As the they began to saw the trunk, it became obvious no one wanted to lose it. Even though it made sense to cut the tree, the father acknowledged the feelings of his family and agreed to let the tree stand. Together, they filled the saw cut with tar to heal the wound.

    It takes a real man to put his family’s feelings before the practicalities of life. The farmer is a special guy.

  16. Angela
    Angela says:

    Great post, one of my favorites. In addition, your redesign on the blog looks really good – so much better organized.

  17. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I disagree with “And remembering failure might seem educational to you—but it’s not. It’s a downer. So just forget it.” because we can agree to disagree here. :)
    I think it’s important to remember failure but not dwell on it. Learn the lesson well and hopefully it will have to be repeated.

    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      Last sentence should read – Learn the lesson well and hopefully it will NOT have to be repeated.

  18. Diane
    Diane says:

    I think my favorite part wasn’t about Samuel, but the Farmer. When he laughed, that’s when I cried.

  19. chris
    chris says:

    I am not totally convinced that failure is NOT educational. Whatever happened to the notion of “learning from our failures”?

    Or is that “learning from our mistakes”?

    And is there a qualitative difference?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I am starting to think that we learn from our mistakes only in hindsight. In the moment, we just need to forget about them and move on.

      Here’s how I know this: When people talk about their failures, they never talk about right now, this second, when they couldn’t get out of bed in the morning and had to get drunk at 10am. People tell you that five years later. When they’re doing great.

      So on those mornings when you lose credibility with everyone around you because you don’t get out of bed and you miss a meeting and you’re too drunk to call someone to explain.

      Those are bad times. Big failures. We just need to not beat ourselves up over it and move on to the next day. Later, we can reframe it as some great learning experience. But when failure is close by, you don’t have time to pause and reframe, you just have to keep moving.

      This is why I’m sure that you should savor success and forget failure.

      Anyway, now that I’ms spewing endlessly about this topic, it’s a pet peeve of mine that people talk about how great a learning experience their failures were ten years after the fail. It’s so disingenuous. And smug. And annoying.


      • karelys
        karelys says:

        oh god! this is really awful but some people tell me “I’m okay with my failures because it makes me the person I am today!!”

        And I look at the person they are today and I see all kinds of control freak, codependent, and unable to move forward because of fear!

        I think it’s so true what you say about forget the failure in the moment! You’ll learn from it anyway! it’s so hard to forget the emotional impact that there is no need to dwell on it even more. Hold on to success to fuel your next few steps.

        I sometimes feel really bad that those people sort of love their failures because they person they are today is kinda crummy. I WOULD NOT like to be that kind of person. Or get advice from them. Or anything.

        I am trying to not get ruled by my failures. I don’t want to react out of fear to new opportunities because of those failures. Like those people who appreciate their failures do because they can’t see outside the box…that they are missing on new opportunities because they act out of fear. But they don’t know.

      • chris
        chris says:

        I am recalling a “mistake” that I made professionally a while back. The person in charge of continuing education came and found me and gave me articles to read about the principle I had failed to act upon. Fair enough. But I think what I really learned from that “failure” (or mistake) was to WATCH MYSELF, to be more vigilant, to self-monitor.
        I even became hyper-vigilant. I took no shortcuts on that particular issue, ever.

        I was meant to learn something from my mistake/failure, and I did. I don’t know if I learned the “right” lesson, though.

  20. Salome
    Salome says:

    Thank you for sharing this story. My father too was a farmer and I had a pet goat named Cherry. My father, on account if me naming the goat, would not sell it to the butcher. “Ok young lady you get one chance,” he told me then, “but do not name the animals again. You name them, you get attached to them and then we’ll starve.” RIP dad. And thanks for resurrecting him – even just a little bit:)

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Comments like these — the really nice ones — they make my day. Thank you Katherine, and everyone else.

      It’s very hard to know what peoples’ reaction to a post will be. Today is such a nice surprise. Thank you. And hooray.


  21. Jim C.
    Jim C. says:

    I really hope Samuel had his bath before that last photo was taken, where he’s contacting the other goats.

  22. Darwin Vanderstelt
    Darwin Vanderstelt says:

    Having raised 5 kids on a dairy farm, with all the associated pets etc, this struck me as one of the wierder stories I’ve seen in your blog. What is the deal with those funny looking pants? You don’t have Levis or Wranglers in Wisconsin? Listen to Farmer, and you’ll eventually have a man you can be proud of. Follow your own instincts, and you will end up with a metrosexual living in your basement.

  23. Phenom
    Phenom says:

    OK, so I am still really disappointed with you for that divorce-post that was completely immature and selfish of you to publish. But this post is one of your best EVER and it has reminded me why I fell in love with your blog a few years back.

    You are brilliant when you write from a place of truth and honesty. Sometimes the truths you reveal are raw, gut clenching and even borderline inappropriate for those who don’t like to face what is difficult. I love it, personally, and that edge is part of what makes you so polarizing. Keep writing posts like this and maybe I can call you an idol of mine again someday in the future?

    I’m not sure yet. I don’t think the motivation behind why you posted that divorce-basing diatribe was honest. Maybe it wasn’t even the post itself that I found the most offensive (as I am going through a divorce and leaving may have saved my life), but rather I was more offended by the breach of trust that I could count on you to write honestly with out trying to justify, apologize, make peace with your mistakes … whatever that post was.

    This post is phenomenal. Full of life, the human condition, humility and the ebb and flow of real relationships with people we love who challenge us to have empathy even when we don’t understand or agree all the time.

  24. chris
    chris says:

    Phenom wrote: . . . relationships with people we love who challenge us to have empathy even when we don’t understand or agree all the time.

    Yes, and when we don’t understand and don’t agree, we can recognize that “readiness is all” as Wm Shakespeare so wisely put it.

    This post has many lessons and sub-texts, “readiness is all” being one, IMO.

  25. Paul Hassing
    Paul Hassing says:

    A wonderful story, P! Hats off to all of you. Your photos are. Great to see you getting into them. If I had one composition wish, it’d be to have your distorted reflection in the convex truck mirror. Best regards, P. :)

  26. t
    t says:

    i love this! i just did a performance piece that was a semi-flop and because of reading this post i am able to process my experience as “educational” and change my view about feeling like a failure. we are all learning!!!!!!

  27. me
    me says:

    HOORAY!! Samuel’s home!! What a great story.

    I teared up when your son started to cry …. so glad the story had A Happy Ending.


  28. me
    me says:

    P.S. I really love how youre consistently able to tell an entertaining story AND demonstrate how the vignette is relevant to work/life.

    It drives me crazy when readers sometime get so caught up in some minor datapoint & focus all their attention and outrage on it, all the while managing to miss, IMO, the true point – and value – of your story.

    So, thanks for including in your goat tale these wise words (I plan to tatoo it to my forehead):

    “The right choice is to savor success and forget failure.”

  29. awiz8
    awiz8 says:

    I disagrre, you’ve got to remember failure, just to keep from failing over and over again.

    “Those who do not remember the past, are doomed to repeat it.”

    George Santayana

  30. Jim B
    Jim B says:

    Really touching, awesome story. You are coming together as a family and figuring stuff out without going crazy. Kudos Penelope.

  31. K Williams
    K Williams says:

    I believe this to be, perhaps, the post with the most honest emotion, purest integrity, and best narrative I have ever read from you. Your family will forever treasure this experience…if only all families could grow through such moments. Thank you.

  32. Jim
    Jim says:

    The Farmer is right, of course, about the outdated method of judging by marbling and the inferiority of feeding corn to the animals. I never realized that “progressive” farmers were up against this type of hurdle in the marketplace.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      From the little bits I read on how Penelope describe’s the Farmer’s uptightness about caring for the animals….I would only eat his meat if he was around.

      Seriously! I never even thought about the biohazard stuff.

      Remember how she says that the Farmer is super caring for his animals but his meat can’t qualify for Whole Foods and such?

      Makes me laugh at the things we are sold. Wow!

  33. Lisa S
    Lisa S says:

    Having grown up on a farm in Ohio–with pigs, 4-H, PETA, mucking around, and taking our animals to market–I totally got and loved that story. Today I’m the farm girl living in a city (which I said I’d never do, of course).

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for the comment, Lisa. Often I wonder what my kids will be like when they grow up. I have a feeling they will leave comments like this one :)


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