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On Mantras and Mallets

Mantras serve us well in YMakers.

In YMakers, a program of our STEAM Academy, mantras inspire us to work hard, they keep us safe, and they can help to refocus us when everything goes awry.

One of our most important mantras is adapted from Samuel Beckett: “Try. Fail. Try again. Fail better.” It is an expansion of the classic Boy Scout motto “If at first you don't succeed...” but it speaks more directly the “Maker Mindset.” Not only do we doggedly pursue our ends, but we accept, and even embrace failure as a necessary and beneficial step towards those ends.

As Thomas Edison said about his countless “failures” en route to perfecting the light bulb: “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”


Woodworkers like to make mallets. I dove into making my own without instructions or an example of a mallet to follow. I knew I needed two things: a heavy block for the mallet head, and a rod or stick for the handle. I'd need to carve a mortise (a square shaped tunnel) through the head, and shape the end of the handle into a squared tenon to slide into the mortise. It seemed straightforward enough.

Three Attempts at a Mallet

On the first attempt, my mortise did not travel straight through the head, meaning the handle would sit crookedly and throw everything off balance; it snapped in the end. On the second attempt I tried a new method of carving the mortise which worked fairly well. It was straight, and the handle that I'd cut square fit snugly, but as I whacked it home, the handle snapped. I investigated the break and found that I'd squared the handle where the grain of the wood did not run perfectly straight, leading to a weak point (quite literally, a snapping point). The snapped end of the handle was lodged firmly in the mortise, and I knew I'd have to try a third time.

Heeding the lessons I'd learned from the first two iterations, my third mallet came out perfectly (or, perfectly enough for a Maker like me). My students asked if I was upset that it'd taken so long and so many tries to get it right. Nope! On the contrary, I was very proud of the mallet and was glad for my missteps. I carried it around the rest of the day, leaning it on my shoulder.

Our Mantra

In the finished product I could see the difficulties I'd faced along the way, and could identify the little lessons I learned while making my very first mallet. To me, it's a physical representation of our mantra “Try. Fail. Try again. Fail better.”