Wisdom//

You Are Not Your Failure. It Does Not Define You

A "fish egg perspective" on your shortcomings can help you get ahead.

WNstock / Shuttersock
WNstock / Shuttersock

Most of us are afraid of failure, but not for the reason you think.

Yes, there are many reasons why we fear failure. We are afraid of humiliation. We are afraid of headaches and aggravation. We are afraid of wasting our time and effort.

And yes, we are afraid that our failure confirms that we are not good enough.

But if there’s one terror that failure evokes in us, it’s this: failure closes doors.

You see, before failure happens, everything is full of hope and promise. We’re optimistic about what roads lie before us. But as we experience setbacks, we feel those doors gradually begin to close on us. We are afraid that if there are no doors left to go through, we’re left with no possibilities.

As we grow older, we become more and more afraid of failure. We become risk-averse. We seek to avoid situations that may induce failure.

Eventually, not trying anything new seems like a better option because we’d rather not know the limits.

Failing in any area of life can be terrifying when you look at it that way.

But recently, I’ve been looking at failure from a different perspective. It’s one that a lot of entrepreneurs and innovative companies use to test out new ideas.

Here’s how it works.

Experiment with Failure

Whenever something doesn’t go our way, our first thought tends to be: “This isn’t right for me. I shouldn’t be doing this.” And then, we give up.

It’s too easy to feel dejected and frustrated when something doesn’t come out perfect.

But it’s okay if things don’t go just the way you want. Look at it from this perspective: failing is an experiment in itself.

Each time you fail, you get feedback on what you did and didn’t do wrong.

For instance, you may think you have strong gut instincts, but you later end up misjudging someone’s motives and making the wrong decision.

It doesn’t mean your gut instincts are inherently faulty. It just means you haven’t gained enough experience and knowledge to know how to act to a situation.

A past mistake is an opportunity to learn and improve for the future.

The Fish Egg Perspective to Failing

Big mistakes can be costly, though.

After all, you don’t want to lose all your money in a bad investment or take on an endeavor that’s doomed from the start. Failures of these magnitudes can be hard, if not impossible, to recover from.

Instead, approach failure by using lots of little tests. Think of your experiments like the survival strategy of the salmon.

In the winter, a female salmon finds a gravel bed in clear water to lay up to 5,000 eggs. Of those thousands of eggs, some aren’t fertilized, a few get washed away, while others are covered in dirt erosion.

Still, most of the eggs hatch into alevins and start off life in a small stream. Only a few months old, some are eaten or die of weakness before they can grow into fry.

After about a year, the salmon grow from fry into parr, at which point they are ready to move downstream for more food and space (but also more competition). By the time they’re two to four years old, the smolts travel to sea to feed on smaller fish.

They then make the trek from the sea to the ocean. Along the way, hundreds are fished up, eaten by bigger fish, or die from sickness and pollution. The salmon remain in the ocean until they grow up to be healthy and strong adults.

Once they’ve reached this point, the salmon once again leave the ocean, fighting against the currents to return to the tiny stream where they were born. A number of them die of exhaustion along the way.

Out of the thousands of eggs in the stream, less than a hundred salmon make it back to their place of birth to continue the cycle of life. Even fewer make the same journey back out to sea again.

The chances of an egg growing into an adult salmon are less than 1 percent. But the more eggs a salmon lays, the higher the probability that its children will live long enough to return to its birthplace.

Failure is the same. Some attempts won’t make it past the early stages. Some result in varying forms of progress. But a few attempts go the entire journey and make everything worth the effort.

Plan for Failure

You are bound to make mistakes along the process of learning new skills or working towards a goal. It’s just part of the process to getting better.

So if failing is inevitable, then it’s best to expect and plan for it.

Anticipate where and when things may go wrong. Listen to others’ experiences and your own to see what you can do differently next time.

Your results won’t be ideal the first time you try — far from it. For example, think of how the phone has evolved. It first started out as a pair of tin cans attached by a strong, before wires were used to transmit messages.

Early telephones ranged in their method of transmissions, with some becoming out of use soon after development. Phones with liquid transmitters were short-lived, while others that vibrated a coil of wire in a magnetic field existed for a time in the military during the 20th century.

Through numerous trials, errors, and iterations, the phone has evolved in the past few centuries to become the smartphone as we know it. Even today, the phone is still undergoing changes.

Those early telephones that went out of use or had faults may have seemed pointless, but they weren’t. They gave inventors valuable information on what users needed and how to improve the device. The failures were a necessary part of discovery.

More Success Means More Failure

People often think that success means not failing, as if the two were exact opposites. But they’re a lot closer than one might realize.

You see, if someone never attempted anything, that person would also never fail or succeed. But when someone does try to learn a new skill or work on an idea, the person will start accumulating both failures and successes.

The more success someone experiences, the more failures they’ve faced in the past.

The important thing to remember is this: You are not your failure. It does define you. It’s just a step that you must get past to become better.

Originally published on Medium.

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