Let’s be honest with ourselves here: nobody wants to fail. In fact, many (if not most) of us in life will go out of our way to avoid failure even if it means missing some opportunities along the way, but therein lies the problem. If you take a look at any successful person you admire whether they be in politics, entertainment, or business, it was their willingness to take risks – and yes, sometimes fail – that allowed them to reach the heights they were able to. Failing can give you a new perspective, as it did with Steve Jobs when he was forced out of Apple in the 1980’s. As we all know he eventually returned and was largely responsible for helping revive the company which had been on the verge of bankruptcy, but he was quoted stating “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” Failing also doesn’t mean you have to choose a new path. Instead, persistence in spite of failure can be an indicator that you are truly in it for the long haul. Steven Spielburg was rejected by no less than three prestigious film schools, and he has gone on to be one of the most successful directors in Hollywood. No matter the circumstances behind your failure, the most important thing is that you take something away from it.
LIFE’S GREATEST TEACHER
While a win always feels great and can’t be discounted, there is still so much to gain from your losses that they shouldn’t be looked down upon. Thomas Edison famously made over 10,000 attempts to invent the lightbulb, and said of his failures that he knew “definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work.” Rather than let these failures deter him from moving forward, he learned from them and was able to apply his knowledge to future iterations. It is common to feel shame about failure, and as a result wish to hide from our mistakes and push them to the back of our minds, but scientific research has consistently shown that mistakes make us smarter. A pair of studies that were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in the early 2000’s concluded that discussing our mistakes results in a higher rate of learning. Authored by Shmuel Ellis from Tel Aviv University, the studies followed two companies of soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces. Soldiers from each group were tested for their performance on navigational exercises and then given post-action reviews to discuss the details of their performance. For the first company, the event reviews focused solely on their mistakes, while the series of event reviews performed with the second company focused both on what could be learned from their successes as well as their failures. Ultimately, Ellis concluded within the study that experiencing failure leads to mental models that are richer than when you experience success alone.
Unfortunately, despite this knowledge many people still do not wish to experience defeat and will go to great lengths to avoid it. Whether it be an individual or a company, they may operate under the assumption that if they repeat the same safe choices over and over again they won’t make any waves and as a result will be able to fly under the radar. While this may seem like a good way to avoid failure, without risk you are also missing many many opportunities to succeed as well. Additionally, in more recent years some employers are catching on to the fact that failure is an indication of courage. Many companies are deliberately looking to hire employees who have experienced both failures and successes, knowing that those are the people who have the ability to bring their companies the most gains. They recognize that failure is a natural byproduct of moving a company forward, and it is how you parlay those into future gains that truly make or break a company.
REACHING YOUR POTENTIAL
Sometimes we fail even when things are completely out of our control, but more often than not it is our mistakes that result in our failure. This can be an intimidating realization, but it is important to understand that you will never really know what you are truly capable of unless you fail. Failure gives you an opportunity to realize alternative ways to achieve your goals, and learning from your failures can be the best way to broaden your perspective, as they are there to tell you that something has gone wrong. Whether that be the direction you are heading or the strategy your taking, by failing we gain quick access to a new perspective that we wouldn’t have achieved previously. With the right vision and a positive mindset, it creates new pathways to acquiring your goals. We’ve often been told since childhood that “everybody makes mistakes,” and yet in adulthood we still tend to feel ashamed when we make them. It is important to recognize in life that making mistakes is not the problem, it is when we fail to learn from them that they truly become failures.
What would have happened if Steve Jobs, Steven Spielburg, or Thomas Edison had simply quit when they failed the first time? If you give up after failing you are never going to find success in life, because you are not pushing yourself to grow or be better. This applies to taking risks as well. If you are allowing yourself to get too comfortable in any aspect of life, you are not truly working to grow or change. Stepping out of your comfort zone means taking risks that may end in failure, but if you allow yourself to stagnate you will never reach your full potential.
Failures and mistakes are imperative to learning and growing – think about how many times you must have tripped and stumbled while learning to walk, only to pull yourself back up again. Failing once does not mean you will fail every time, and it’s the best way to explore your abilities and learn to make the most of every opportunity. If we could all maintain the determination and fortitude we have as children to learn to walk, read, ride a bike, and the hundreds of other challenges that are faced, we would open up for ourselves an infinite world of possibilities.