One of the things that really drags us down is failure, and the guilt that inevitably comes with it. We beat ourselves up over it, others may beat us up over it, and overall, when we fail, we just sort of feel like shit.
As far as I’m concerned, failure is AWESOME. Failure is a critical component of growth. In fact, I’d say that true growth is impossible without some measure of failure. Some lessons, while painful, can only be learned and internalized through failure.
Perhaps an example from my past will help.
In high school, I got into body building. Not professional (or even semi-professional), but just body building for fun and for a greater sense of self-confidence.
As I began learning about weight lifting, one of the first and most fascinating things I learned was that muscle growth really starts with muscle failure.
When you lift the right amount of weight (not too much, and not too little), perform the right number of repetitions and push and push with all your might to finish one final repetition, your muscles tear.
Not a major tear, but thousands and thousands of micro-tears…and this is a good thing! When your muscles tear in this way, if you provide them with the correct nutrients, the necessary excess calories, and enough rest, they’ll rebuild stronger and larger than ever before. HULK SMASH!
Muscle growth isn’t a painless process, and it requires dedication, effort, patience, and the right frame of mind to make all of it worthwhile.
Life is no different.
When we fail, as we all will, we have to approach failure from the right mental framework. If you view failure as something painful, to be avoided at all costs, something dangerous happens; you begin to avoid taking risks, and instead of trying to succeed, you begin trying not to fail, and there is a world of difference between the two.
However, if you approach the pain of failure as a learning and growing process, as something worth doing, then everything changes.
“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan
From this point of view, your failures become awesome, because they just represent another chance to learn, grow, and become greater than ever.
You try to succeed, and if at first you don’t succeed, you learn from your failures and try, try again. The only true failure is failing to trying again.
A perfect example of this would be Thomas Edison and his efforts to create the first light bulb. He knew, just knew, that the light bulb was possible. And because he had a vision he persisted through failure after failure in his quest to make his vision a reality.
Here is one of his most famous quotes, the one that exemplifies the correct mindset for approaching failure:
“If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I’m not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.” – Thomas A. Edison
Had he become frustrated or given up after his 100th, 1,000th, or even 9,999th failure, where would we be? In the dark, I imagine. Edison’s approach was that of the scientist: Ask a question, do research, form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, analyze the data, determine the results. Rinse and repeat as needed.
In order to correctly approach (and to make the most of) failure in your life, you need to create the right mindset. The following six steps will help you to turn “failure” into an invaluable tool going forward:
1. You will fail many times throughout your life. That’s fine! The sooner you accept this, the sooner you can move past it.
2. Make a list of all the things in your life that you are currently afraid of failing at. Be thorough, and totally honest. School, work, love, whatever.
3. Determine, for each item, if other people have succeeded at that thing before. If people have succeeded at something before (or failed at it), learn from them.
How did they succeed, or what caused them to fail? Can you apply those principles in your situation? Learn from others experiences wherever possible…you don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
4. If nobody has done what you’re doing, or if you can’t find any information, then you can’t really fail, you can only learn something new.
5. Don’t ever, EVER let others label you a failure. The only true, lasting failure is failing to get back up and try again, so don’t be a quitter.
6. Last but not least, whether you succeed or fail in any given endeavor, share! Tell people about it, start a blog, write a book. Most great innovations in life are collaborations, remixes of old ideas, so share what you learn with others whenever possible.
By sharing what you learn, you’re giving back, and perhaps helping to shape the future in an unexpected way.
These six steps will help you to overcome the traditional sense of failure, and instead embrace failure as an acceptable and often necessary part of the creative process.