There are few words in the English language more terrifying than “failure.” The prospect of failure looms heavy and dark over every dream, every ambition. It causes hesitation and sometimes even stops us from starting something at all. The ironic thing— and bear with me here for a moment— is that it’s not something that we should fear at all. We should be running towards failure with open arms, not ducking and hiding from the mere possibility of it. From failure comes growth and that is worth pursuing.
Here’s the thing that no one ever wants to admit: we all fail. Every single one of us. Every success story that you’ve ever heard is fraught with its fair share of failures and some of them are pretty big ones. Michael Jordan, Steve Jobs, Abraham Lincoln, Einstein, Beethoven and Henry Ford. What do they all have in common? Failure. Well, if we are being completely honest, failure and monumental, revolutionary success. Thanks to their numerous and colossal failures, we now have affordable automobiles, emancipation, the theory of relativity, iPhones and Air Jordans. Not to mention musical compositions that would go on to influence future musicians, for generations to come.
Failure is a necessary step in our learning process.
This isn’t to say that the harder you fall, the bigger you are. It’s just that the old adage rings true: If you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried anything new. And if you haven’t tried anything new, then it’s impossible to succeed at it. Failure is a necessary step in our learning process and here’s the kicker—it’s inevitable. We have to fail at a lot of things, regularly, just to stay alive. See. Right now you’re failing at dying. Good job, have a cookie.
Through testing different theories, trying different approaches and applying different tactics, we are able to weed out what works and what doesn’t until eventually, we find a process that works perfectly for us (also known as success).
It’s a popular and tempting school of thought that if you fail at something, maybe you just weren’t “meant for it.” While everyone’s stories and experiences are different, to automatically assume that it was fate intervening in order to “correct our path,” diminishes the impact of the failure and our ability to learn from it. Henry Ford’s first two car companies were complete flops and Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first job in television. I think it’s safe to say that neither one of these examples were heading down the wrong path. In both of these cases, failure forced innovation—a change in creative direction and approach. This is the real value of failure.
If you set out to succeed at something by truly pouring your heart and soul into it, working to the point of obsession and trying every approach in every combination that you possibly can and you still fail—you will grow.
Just as there are different definitions of success, there are different types of failure. One is part of a creative process, the other is by design. If you set out to succeed at something by truly pouring your heart and soul into it, working to the point of obsession and trying every approach in every combination that you possibly can and you still fail—you will grow. What’s more, you will likely learn the skill or mindset or have an experience that will be in some way related to your eventual success, I can almost guarantee it. But, if you fail because you didn’t put the effort in, weren’t willing to take the chance, or were just not invested enough in any sense…you just fail, period. There is no innovator trophy or future success waiting on the other side for you and you should just move on.
Failure is a reality like any other. It’s all in how you look at it. Think about the last time that you failed at something really meaningful. Now, stop thinking of it as an ending and start thinking about it as a logical step in the process. What would you do differently? Ok, now here’s the really hard-hitting question—what’s stopping you? Trying something more than once and having it fail more than once doesn’t make you crazy. Not learning the lesson and applying it, does. As another famous failure (Thomas Edison) reminds us, sometimes it takes 10,001 tries to make a lightbulb.