by David Pierce
I’m wired to be afraid to fail, and to avoid failure at all costs. I think we all are.
We somehow harbor the belief that if we attempt something and fail, that we are somehow less, and that everyone we know is making fun of us behind our back.
Because of this, we spend our time either pushing ourselves too hard toward success, or simply not trying because we might fail.
Failure is the single most important aspect of any success.
Nearly everything you’ve learned and are able to do is as a result of one or more (usually more) failures.
Failing, and failing spectacularly, are enormously beneficial in all that we do.
Here are seven reasons failure’s not so scary, and can actually help us be successful:
Failure Kills Your Preconceptions. Whenever we fail, it’s because things don’t work the way we thought they did. Judging by my failure rate, things rarely work like I think they do- the way I learn the truth is to try and try again until something fits. When we don’t succeed, we’re forced to re-evaluate, step back and challenge why the things we thought would work, didn’t. My understanding of the world is constantly being reshaped by the things I do wrong, much more than that which I do right.
Nobody bats 1.000. The best and the brightest in our culture, from the wealthiest to most innovative and creative, failed many times before being successful. Edison’s light bulb wasn’t invented on the first try, and no one faults him for it! Anyone who can claim they’ve never failed is either a liar, or they’ve never tried anything in their lives. No one’s right all the time, and you won’t be either- that’s okay. We need not fear being ridiculed or ostracized for doing something everyone does, and can act knowing that if no one else is perfect, we don’t have to pretend to be.
Every failure is a step forward. When you fail, the worst thing to do is to try and forget about it. Instead, reflect on it: what went wrong? What could you have done to avoid that failure, or at least fail slightly less? A popular example is of a child learning to walk: no kid simply stands up and starts running. Instead, they get up, look around, and fall down. Then the next time, they use the table to slide along, and they feel how steps work. Then, they take one step and fall down. Next time, it’s two steps. Then three. Soon enough, they’re running full speed into large crowds at malls and frightening their parents. Failure isn’t a problem for babies, it’s just the first step. Failure helps us tweak the system, to run through a trial-and-error to slowly but surely build toward the right way.
“What Not to Do” matters. Over this past summer, I bought a Super Nintendo. I was determined, determined to beat Donkey Kong 2. This is a silly example, but it taught me a lot about failure. Every time I played the game, I would fall off cliffs or get eaten by alligators. Then, the next time, I would run up to the cliff, remember, and suddenly back off. In this case as in many, knowing the wrong thing to do was at least as important as knowing the right thing to do. Eliminating the past failures was the surest ticket to success.
Failure recommits us. Back to Donkey Kong: every time I’d fall off a cliff or shoot myself out of a barrel and into the abyss, I became more determined to beat the game the next time. For many of us, the natural reaction to failure can be to give up, bail, and move on to something easier- we have to avoid this. If we don’t allow failure to beat us, but become ever more resolved to beat that particular failure next time, we’re in a position to be more successful than ever.
Success Comes From Baby Steps. Failure can force us to get competitive with ourselves – we resolve to do slightly better the next time. And the next. Success comes from small steps, just like the baby trying to walk. Avoiding failure is the surest way to fail – instead, just try and get a little bit closer every time. Fail 99 times, and the hundredth just might be the charm. If not, number 101 looks even more promising.
You Might Just Succeed. When I really think about it, most of the time my reason for not doing something is that I’m afraid it won’t work, or that somehow I’ll fail. But you know what? Sometimes I’m wrong.
Since I’ve learned not to fear failure, and to embrace it, I find that I’m actually successful a lot more often. I’m able to do things I didn’t think I could, and have a new confidence because I’m not worried about what could go wrong. If you try something and fail, you end up exactly where you were at the start. There’s nothing to lose. We don’t like to fail- we fear it, we run from it, and we beat ourselves up when it happens.
The only time failure is actually a problem is when we let it dissuade us from continuing to try, and allow failure to defeat us. When we use our failures, learning from them and applying them, failure turns inevitably into success.
And, by the way, I beat Donkey Kong 2. And it was worth it.
This article is by David Pierce. You can find more of his writing on his blog,