Today I’m going to explore a topic we all deal with on a daily basis, Success and Failure.
Success and failure mean different things to different people. Failure is almost universally regarded as a negative reflection on you. You failed. You weren’t good enough. You were found wanting. To some extent this is true, however today I’m going to explore failure. I’m going to show you that in most failures there is a strong positive reflection on your character. In fact, failure is often delayed success.
What is failure? Failure is not accomplishing something you set out to do, whether that is climbing a mountain, writing a book, or even getting through your to-do list. People frown when you fail, they tell you to do better, to work harder, they might even tell you failure means you weren’t good enough.
For some of us those responses to failure can engender fear, a fear of failure because you do not want to let anyone down, including yourself, by not being good enough. That fear is worse than the failure. That fear is crippling. That fear keeps you from success. It keeps you from trying. The problem is, without failure you can never succeed.
Think about when you learned to ride a bike or skip, or even more basic, to walk. Did you get right up and walk? No, of course not! You failed many, many, many times before you walked. You had to fall, and trip and stumble and go head over heels before you finally learned to balance your enormous head over your tiny body. You failed to learn walking. The first time. You failed hundreds, if not thousands of times before you succeeded. Did you give up? No. You as a tiny baby understood that the only way to reach that toy on the shelf was to stand, was to walk, was to climb. Even if it meant falling hundreds of times, your desire to succeed overpowered any anxiety about falling.
The same principle must apply to our adult lives.
To fear failure is to fear a potential. There is no certainty that you will fail, only a certainty that if you do not try you will never succeed. Failure is a potential result, but not a final one. One failure does not mark the end of all things, merely the opportunity to correct an imbalance and move forward again. Just like when you learned to walk, each time you fell you learned something new. You learned that you should take a smaller step or keep your head more centered, even if you were unconscious of these concepts. Each failure marks an opportunity for growth, for learning, for thriving, and for success.
I spectacularly failed.
For the last six years I have hidden my writing away from everyone. I was obsessed with “perfecting” it. The truth is I was scared. No, I was terrified. I was terrified of failing. I was terrified of negative responses, of critical remarks. I was terrified that my innermost self would be rejected and ridiculed. I had listened to all the people telling me that my dream was crazy, impossible, foolish, immature, and unreasonable. I internalized those fears, they drowned out the voices of those saying I was talented, or capable, or that my dreams were possible.
I hid the fear from everyone, especially myself, by saying I wasn’t sharing it because I had to pay the bills, I had to finish graduate school, I had to finish college, I had to …. Everything was one giant excuse to avoid my fear. My fear of failure. My fear of failing at one of the things that gives me the greatest imaginable joy. I felt that if I failed at writing even once, I would never be able to recover.
Recently, I read several articles on taking action, putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, and how to develop marketable skills, which I will link at the bottom of this article. They galvanized me. I realized that I was afraid of failure, I was afraid to try. That fear was preventing my success, I was failing myself. I was failing to succeed.
As you can imagine I had a nice long, well, several nice long cries after realizing that.
I hate failure. I always have. Even though my parents raised me to see mistakes and failure as moments to learn from not to fear. That advice, arguably the best I’ve ever received, only now makes sense. It took me 25 years to realize that my failures do not define me.
My failures do not define me.
My successes define me.
After those nice long cries I wrote up a list of my successes. It wasn’t a long list, but I was proud of it. There was something missing though, and it was the most important thing. I had not logged any successes in my writing. I had completed a novel as a teen but never shown it to anyone but my family. I had never put my work out there. I had never put it out in the ‘verse and said here I am, I am a writer.
So I took action. I decided to set aside fear, to set aside failure, to set aside anxiety and jump. I did not plan, I did not perfect. I wrote, edited and published my first four blog posts. Most of those posts took me only an hour or so to write, often much less. I had done it. I had put it out there. The result was success. I succeeded. I did not fail as I had expected, I succeeded. I took action and that action was rewarded. Sure, I privately got a few critiques and had excellent discussions about their thoughts but those weren’t failures. Even the critiques were a success, because it meant someone had thought enough about my writing to take time to offer their thoughts.
In those moments I realized something that I hope you will take away from this post. I realized that Action was the key to success.
Failure often occurs because we are afraid to try. Oh it can occur when we try too, just like when we learn to walk, but then we learn. The greatest failure is not to try. By not trying you fail yourself and prevent any possibility of success. The only way to succeed is to try, to take action. Action is the path to success. Planning is important but should never consume or overtake action. Always be active, always move forward, always take action to achieve your goals.
So why do I say that failure is a strong positive reflection on your character? How can I say that after saying that my failure lead to six years of stagnation? I can say that because even though I failed rather spectacularly, I learned. It took me six years but I did it. I learned that sitting on my hands would get me nowhere. I learned. The key is that failure means you are learning. Failure is how we learn. We fail. We fail again and again and again until we succeed. That’s what we do. We fall down, over and over until we can walk without doing so, until we succeed.
I failed, but because of that failure I am now writing this post. I now have the courage and the motivation to share that experience with all of you. I want to tell you not to fear failure, you must embrace it! You must expect to fail more than you succeed but you must find the new information in your failure. Just like a geneticist or a physicist who might spend years on research only to find there is nothing there, at least now they know where the problem isn’t. It is not failure, it is just one more step toward understanding.
Take Action. Fail spectacularly. Soar.
Put your thoughts, and your ideas out in the ‘verse my friends. You never know who might be listening, waiting to hear you.
The Articles I read/watched:
The Art of Manliness: 10 Overlooked Truths about Action
The Importance of Feeling Uncomfortable
“Follow your Passion is Bad Advice” by Cal Newport (Don’t let the title fool you! This is a fantastic talk!)