Embrace Failure, Just Don’t Quit!

From an early age, we’re taught to abhor failure.  It’s something to be avoided, and for some, this avoidance of failure becomes so strong that it turns into paralysis.  We become so scared of not succeeding, of being judged a loser, of receiving an epic face palm, that we stop trying altogether.
So where does this fear stem from.  As a child learning to walk, you failed often, sometimes with painful headfirst results.  Instead of laughter and ridicule, you received praise for small gains, encouragement to try again, and comfort when the failure was particularly painful.  But as you grow up, things change.  You write tests where a fail is bad, you play sport and make mistakes for which you get berated, you get yelled at when you get to work for trivial mistakes.  This continues until you are so beaten down that you’d rather do nothing than try something and fail.

This is a big issue.  No progress was made without failure.  Early planes crashed, and now there is a mission to Mars being planned.  Penicillin, post-its, even Columbus discovering America were all failures.  Not what they were supposed to be, and yet, these and other great “failures” are now massive success stories.

So, what do we take from this?

If something doesn’t turn out the way you wanted, that doesn’t mean it’s not useful.  Sometimes it tells you you need to change your approach, sometimes you need to redefine your definition of success, and sometimes, the results are completely unpredictable and better than you could ever have imagined.

The important thing is that everything is a learning opportunity.  A chance to look at what worked and why, and what didn’t work and the reasons for that too.  A chance to accept the feelings of pain and disappointment, but then to move on and leave those feelings behind.

Let’s look at a little framework to use for evaluating the failure.

First, identify what worked. Maybe you didn’t find the dragon. Maybe you did and got burned.  Next time you go looking, getting to the mountain will be easier, or you won’t be wasting time searching empty caves.

Second, determine where things went off course.  Maybe you weren’t expecting this dragon to breathe fire, or you thought the lair would be in the low lying hills instead of the cliff face and didn’t bring climbing gear.

Third, figure out what you’ll do different next time.  This could mean bringing fireproof boxers, or proper climbing gear. Or, it could be changing the plan altogether, maybe instead of attacking the beast in his stronghood, you’ll wait for him to leave and try shoot him out of the sky.  The point is that you have options, and without the failure, you wouldn’t know what the logical next step is.

And remember, the only difference between the master and the beginner is that the master has failed more often than the beginner has tried.

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