Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Why Failing is Not the Enemy

Why Failing is Not the Enemy

Being scared to fail is normal, and socially reinforced

We are taught in our individualistic, competitive societies that failure is something to be ashamed of. When many people are sharing the message that we should be reaching for the stars, we receive subtle (and not so subtle) messages that every failure is another signal that we are bad or we are weak or we are worthless.

When we are presented with respected people in a society, we see images of those who have accomplished much in terms of successes. They have impressive resumes and they seem to have it all together. We are hardly ever told the stories of the long lists of failures which each of these successful people has been through. We have all felt the embarrassment and disappointment of failure, and you might think that you should not even try because you might fail.

The truth is that most people you encounter will not support you wholeheartedly, and will see every failure as simply that - a failure and a sign that you are a failure. Most people around you will even relish in your failures and be much more comfortable seeing you fail at things than succeed. In fact, they might even expect you to fail.

And even though those individuals who have achieved much tell us that we should ignore these negative influences and focus on what we want to do, these negative messages are abundant and they are painful. You are much more likely to receive negative comments from strangers than positive ones, because negative reactions are valued in society as they offer a sense of superiority or even collective mocking. Just look at the comments sections on most websites - the comments are much less likely to be constructive criticism, and much more likely to be vitriolic, venomous and uncompassionate tearing down. These negative commenters are really saying At least I didn't do anything that people could dislike/ find stupid/ silly/ crazy/ embarrassing. And through their comments they are trying to build up their own self-image. People do not want you to try new things, because they are just as scared of trying new things as you are.

When we face failure, we know these voices are coming, not to mention the voices of our own hurt or insecure selves which will be amplified in the face of any failure. So we should avoid failure at all costs, right?

Failure is the only way to grow

The truth is that only through our failures, and through learning from the failures of others if we're lucky, can we achieve any real level of success. Only by overcoming these fears of failure and by failing repeatedly, painfully and in big ways can we see any glimmer of how to be our best selves.

This is because our failures give us the chance to reflect and redirect our energies, and they also allow us to have thicker skin. We are able to adapt to new challenges easier when we have failed a lot, and even those projects which did not end up earning millions still have their place in making us the people we are.

In fact, the more successful an individual is, the more likely they are to face large numbers of failures, and they will almost always tell you that they are grateful for these failures. Without them, they would not have learned the hard lessons which ultimately led them to where they are. Every single person who you might respect and admire can tell you stories about their failures. Most will own these as badges of honour, because they are symbols of the perseverance, determination and drive that go along with living your best life.

My philosophy is that I am only a finite number of failures away from my big success in life, so I might as well swing for the fences every time and make the most of opportunities until my number is up.

Failure is often only a perception

Failing a test is a clear example of where lack of preparation or unfortunate circumstances led to missing out on the goal that you set out for. But not every "failure" is so easily and neatly defined, and most of the time you will have no control over whether something you undertake "succeeds" or "fails", but you can only make the most of it.

When Walt Disney was told by MGM Studios that the image of a mouse would never sell, he did not abandon his initial inspiration even when it seemed like a "failure". When J.K. Rowling's manuscript for Harry Potter was rejected by 12 publishers, she did not abandon the idea but turned it into something even better. The examples are endless.

Each time the "failure" led to the entrepreneur trying new things in new ways, and each time they persevered despite criticism, embarrassment, or the thought that they were not good enough. These bumps in the road thus are not failures, but merely steps towards their eventual success.

What can you do to make the most of every failure?

  • Practice, practice, practice. If you want to do something, make yourself an expert at something. But don't delay doing it right now even if you're not an expert. You might not be the best at something, but you can do it in a unique way that might connect with people. And while you're doing that, you're already getting better at it.
  • Take stock often. Write down why you consider something to be a failure, and what you can do better next time. Then remind yourself often of these new steps to take to make the most of the next opportunity.
  • Share with others and ask for advice. There are so many people out there who can help you to make your dreams a success, and who would be thrilled to work with you. The worst thing you can hear would be "no", and then move on and try another door.
  • Don't limit yourself. Don't be discouraged after seeing one road to success close or facing a setback. Try many different roads, and not only will you have traveled an exciting journey, but you have a much greater chance that one of those roads will lead you to a place beyond your wildest dreams!
I look forward to many more failures in future, and to the magnificent places each one will lead me!


Get The Joy of Being Incomplete by Grant Andrews.