To be successful and fulfilled. It’s the dream! Success and fulfillment mean different things for each person. In general, it’s a feeling of satisfaction and contentment within areas of your life, including work, interpersonal relationships, hobbies, and personal growth. Images and promises of success bombard us daily through traditional and social media, or friends or family members that you consider to be “successful”. This exposure shapes our definition of what success and fulfillment are. At worst, our picture of success leaves us feeling intimidated, and at best, it gives us a vision to strive towards.
Regardless of where on the spectrum you fall, one thing is certain. To be able to achieve success and fulfillment, a person has to genuinely embrace failure as a path to get to where you want to be. Motivational speakers will tell you to focus on what you want, not what you don’t want. Although this might be true, being willing to go through failure in the process of becoming successful is the road that ultimately leads to the results you are looking for.
In the current culture of participation trophies and going to great lengths to not offend or discourage, failure has become so taboo that many will fall on the wayside on the way to success, not realizing that failing is simply part of the process. A closer examination of failure and putting it in the right context can shed more insight on why loving failure is the only true path of truly sustainable success and fulfillment.
Fear of Failure
Even seeing or hearing the word “failure” is enough to make people cringe. It doesn’t matter what background, culture, or upbringing someone comes from, or what age they are. At some point very early on in life, every single person has experienced failure. For those lucky enough to have someone around them to explain failure in the right context, it would make all the difference in shaping a person’s perspectives on the experience of failure.
Unfortunately, it’s usually the people closest to us, the ones that have the greatest influence over us that program us, through witnessing our failures, to see failing as a bad thing. Too frequently, we are made wrong, made fun of, shamed, or embarrassed because of our failure. Sometimes it might even be our first time trying something new, something we’ve always wanted to try, that we fail at. When we are laughed at or made fun of, that closes the door for a new experience that sometimes may never open again for the rest of our lives.
Being shamed or shown disappointment for a failure doesn’t have to happen to many times to leave a lasting aversion to failing. Failing becomes associated with pain and negativity. What’s worse, failure at a particular task quickly becomes associated with being a failure as a person! How terrible is this! Considering that this happens most to young children, how could anyone not take the time to explain to this impressionable child that it’s absolutely alright to fail as long as they learn from the experience?
This is why addressing failure in the right context is so important in the development of any person. You’ll never get a hole in one the first time you set foot on a golf course. As a matter of fact, the first time you swing a golf club, you’ll be lucky to have the ball go where you want to go if you manage to hit the ball at all! Michael Jordan, didn’t set foot on the basketball court and immediately become the one of the greatest players of all time. The first time you liked someone and they don’t give you the time of day, does that mean that you’ll never find love ever again in your life? Of course not! We’ve just got to remember that this principle applies to any and everything that we ever want to get good at!
Learn from your mistakes. Get up and try again. Failing is simply part of the process at getting good at something.
When No One Else Gives you Permission, Give It To Yourself
By the time a person reaches 18 years of age, countless failures and mistakes have been made. Through lack of knowledge, wisdom, or intelligence, failure has occurred and the world has trained us that failure is a negative thing. Everyone has been laughed at or made fun of at some point and our minds correlate failure with something bad. And what have we been taught from a very young age? To avoid bad things!
Circumstances are never perfect. Moreover, the world is a dynamic place that constantly changes. In what may have been a purely good intention to protect us, those closest to us took away our permission to fail. As our experience growing up shows us, it’s best to avoid situations that we most likely fail at during our first few tries; especially if failure is public!
This is why each person owes it to themselves, for the purpose of living a successful and fulfillment life, to give themselves permission to fail! When those around us do not give that to us, this permission is something that we absolutely have the right and power to give to ourselves. Just say to yourself, “I’m going to fail at this, many, many times, and that’s absolutely alright. As long as I learn something!”
Think of anything that you’ve ever wanted to try. Surfing, cooking, dancing, playing guitar, or any of the countless hobbies or skills out in the world. It is fair to say that it takes a lot of time, practice, and effort to become good at something. As a matter of fact, research has shown that it takes 10000 hours of consistent practice to become world class at something.
The greatest inventions in the world, the most impactful innovations of mankind, are all the result of countless failures that resulted in knowledge and experience. It is this knowledge and experience, that will provide the wisdom and intelligence to ultimately becomes successful at something! The lightbulb, manned-flight, skyscrapers, farming, anything you can think of that is so common in our daily lives today, is the result of failure. More specifically, these modern amenities that we take for granted are the result of wisdom and knowledge that came from people who had the permission to fail!
Something Worse Than Fear of Failure
In 1994, Steven Seagal starred in a film called On Deadly Ground. There is a scene in the bar where an oil worker was picking on an old Native American patron. Steven Seagal steps in and challenges the oil rig worker to a game of slap hands and for every successful slap, the winner gets to punch the other person. Needless to say, Steven Seagal ended up teaching this oil worker a lesson and asked him, “What’s it gonna take for you to change?” The oil worker responds, through a broken, bloody nose, “I need time to change.”
The point of this story, is to show that our perspectives, the lens with which we view the world, has been programmed and trained over years and years. Allowing yourself to get over the fear of failure or even giving yourself permission to fail is something that you will fail at as well. It doesn’t come right away. Yet, it’s one of the greatest things that you can give yourself in your life.
A wonderful fringe benefit of allowing yourself to try to news and fail at the them in the process of getting good, is that you learn to give yourself grace. The world is already trained to try and knock you down, why help it along by beating yourself up? Give yourself grace. Make the process smoother for yourself. There’s no honor in helping the world to beat yourself up!
In the process of allowing yourself to fail and getting over your fear of failure, you save yourself the trouble of going through something much worse than failing…regret! Hindsight is a bitch and one day when there is time to reflect on your life, will you look back and be so happy that you played it safe, that you didn’t lose anything, but you didn’t risk or gain anything either? The pain of regret is so much more poignant because there is no reclaiming your time, there is no way to go back to when you were 20 and go and talk to that person you were so nervous to talk to. There is no way to say the words that you wanted to say to your parent or sibling.
This is why you should NEVER be afraid to fail. The payoff may not come immediately, but somewhere along the line, there will be a payoff for not being scared to fail!
Don’t Try. Do, Fail, Succeed, Repeat
“Give it a try”. “Try it out.” “Try hard.” If nothing else, for the pure sake of intent, replace the word “try” in your vocabulary with “do”. Allow yourself, open yourself up to the fact that “trying” means you have a way out. Trying is failure by default because there is no total commitment to succeed. It’s not absolutely necessary, just…try. When you replace try with do, there’s a change in your mindset. You either do or you don’t, because with trying, it’s failure and incompleteness rolled into one. Getting into a mindset of “do” prepares you, mentally and physically to overcome the certain failure you will encounter during the process of learning something or accomplishing something. Doing sets you up to try again, and this persistent getting up and trying again is will what ultimately lead to success.
Allowing yourself to either do, or not do, takes away a lot of the stress of the uncertainty that comes with try. You’re approaching with a definite and clear intent. If you’re not ready to commit to something, no problem at all. Just don’t do. If you are ready to get started, and are prepared to do, fail, keep doing after every failure, until you succeed, then start and say “I’m going to do this! Not just once, but over and over again until I get it.” If you’ve learned to walk or speak your native language, then you’ve already successfully gone through this process.
Fear of failure is something learned. A baby doesn’t come into the world with any fear. The same way that a baby learns to walk and talk, persistence and success are natural mind states when you let curiosity lead the way. To address fear of failure, do. Take action knowing you can deal with outcomes and, overcome obstacles and mitigate the risks that will come with anything worthwhile.
I’ve gone through many years working to overcome my own personal fear of failure. Working to reprogram myself is an ongoing process. Hindsight can be a very wicked judge, especially when operating under principles of regret. So, go out there, try anything you want to try, learn anything you want to learn. Fail miserably. It’s okay, you’ve given yourself permission and grace. Then one day when you’re successful, you’ll look back and be so glad that you learned to embrace failure! Happy failing/learning!