So, we’re having a real-life conversation and I mentioned my 50% failure rate last year – how would you respond? I’ve found people tend to fall into a few camps:
- People who immediately give sympathy and assume failure is bad
- Those who then ask what you learned
- And finally, those who say you have not really been doing a lot then?
Where do you sit?
Failure is Bad Fallacy
Excuse the bold title, but this fallacy needs to be taken on.
I’m hereby stating that I absolutely believe failing is not bad. There is such a negative association with failure in the world today that is unwarranted. I want to debunk the narrative that failure is bad.
And more importantly, failing at something does not make you a bad person. You are not judged by your failures in life. Seriously nobody cares unless you killed people or brought down the financial system, you are safe.
So if you instinctively assume failure is bad – ask yourself why? Do you feel life is a zero-sum game, where you either win and get all the riches or lose and go home penniless? Real life is not a zero-sum game. What I mean by that – is that I don’t believe life is preset with two options failure=bad and success=good. While competitive sports may be a zero-sum game, real life is not.
Failure is not a bad thing in my books. Moreover, I believe failure is necessary to learn and build character. By allowing yourself to fail you can explore many new options and test your strengths.
Failure is a great learning opportunity
One of the great benefits of failure is learning and testing limits. As a practical example, let’s consider materials. How can we learn the strength of materials if we don’t test them to failure? We need to test cloths and yarns to understand their properties under a wide range of conditions to determine their strengths.
Similarly, as a human, you need to apply yourself to the max to determine your strengths. Bodybuilders lift to failure to understand where their limits are – they keep increasing the weight until they can lift no more.
And one thing I failed at last year was weightlifting. However, I really enjoyed trying. I followed a program and tried to build strength. There was some progress, but let’s say I am not a natural. I can’t keep the correct form for squatting, even with a mirror. I can only benchpress the bar without weights. And I hate the bro-like atmosphere in the weights room at gyms. A failure in some regards – but a great learning experience for me.
Trying new things
But wider than that testing and learning is a great approach to try new ideas. However, if you want to test new ideas, you need to be comfortable with failure. As your first attempt is going to suck. As may your second. But by testing and refining your approach you will see your skill level increase with experience.
But this approach is very likely to lead to failure. And that is ok. Your new idea may be perfectly aligned to your skillset and it may all work out perfectly. More realistically it will be a failure. But a good failure that lets you learn something about yourself, and modify your approach next time.
And I’m happy to admit I failed at Pinterest – my graphic design skills are not up to scratch. I tried, read a lot and altered my approach. Then I came to the realisation – my sense of awesome graphics was too different from the general public. Moreover, I was not willing to change my designs to better attract people to click on them. Another good failure in my mind.
Another idea that has really gelled with me is that of a growth mindset – and I feel that is very relevant here. I’d define a growth mindset as someone who is able and willing to try to new ideas and approaches. Even when it takes you of your comfort zone.
I know I used to think I had a growth mindset when in reality I was only willing to grow in certain areas. Learn a new programming language – count me in! Learn public speaking – no, I can’t do that. And that realisation hit home hard. I had been deluding myself for years. I really did not have a growth mindset.
Failure is necessary for success
So, us humans can experiment on many different projects to understand our strengths. But to truly understand where we excel, we need to try many, many different approaches and options. I firmly believe success is only available once we have failed – it is only a very rare individual that succeeds the first time on everything.
Us mere mortals need to refine and pivot. We don’t exist alone and always need others input and feedback to thrive. Actual lots and lot of failures are necessary to succeed. Something that is not talked about enough is how much people that are mega-successful have failed. We tend to worship people as overnight successes that have been working on similar failed projects for years.
Unlinking success and personal fulfilment
And now to the mindset. I know my mindset used to be that only by succeeding in everything I could feel I had won and life and feel fulfilled.
And I don’t believe I was alone in this belief. Society spreads the message that success is good and should be celebrated. But the failures before the success are not celebrated anywhere near as prominently.
But really, fulfilment comes from within. You don’t need to succeed in everything. Failure can be embraced. I know I am succeeding in many areas of life (work, money), and failing impressively in others (non-existent love life). Yet I am the happiest I have ever been.
I’d encourage you to also unlink personal fulfilment from success – and instead consider failures a worthy thing to strive for.
Over to you
- What are your thoughts?
- How do you react to failure?
- What was your failure rate last year?