People think failure is such a big, scary, horrible monster. It isn’t. It’s just a consequence of trying. We’re all going to fail at some point, if we haven’t already. So we might as well get comfortable with it.
“I never lose. Either I win or I learn” – Nelson Mandela
Going after success means risking failure. C’est la vie. It’s no big deal to fail – it means you tried, you learned something new and you’re closer to success. Failure is going to happen, it’s going to hurt…but it’s not that bad. After a few failures, you start to become more resilient to it – you get more comfortable with it, and it starts to hurt less. It can even become fuel for determination to succeed.
Most people who have achieved something have failed somewhere along the way. Winning sports people who’ve lost in the past; best-selling authors who’ve been rejected 100 times; musicians who’ve been dropped from contracts and gone on to do great things; business people who have failed businesses in their past (it’s quite surprising how many successful business people have been through bankruptcy).
Failure for most people doesn’t get played out in the public eye – you don’t tend to go on to social media and share with the whole world that you suck. Whereas when you succeed, you shout it from the rooftops. This means we get a skewed idea of failure and success – we think that life is like the X Factor – world ranging success comes in a couple of months…and we think everyone else is succeeding.
Not so. Everyone experiences failure…they just tend to lick those wounds in private. No one wants to say ‘hi world, I’m a failure’. But failure is merely a consequence. Failure doesn’t mean you’ve failed; the end. It just means you tried something and didn’t get the outcome you wanted. Failure isn’t a reflection of how great you are or on who you are as a person.
Failure isn’t a reflection of your value. It doesn’t mean that you suck. It doesn’t mean you should forget what you’re trying to do. It doesn’t mean you will never succeed.
Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently. – Henry Ford
Every time you fail you learn something new. You see how what you’ve done can be done better. Every business failure I’ve had has taught me something useful that has informed future successes.
If you see what you’re doing as an experiment, it helps make ‘failing’ easier – you get to evaluate the experiment and see what worked and what needs tweaking. Experimentation is what we do as humans – it’s how every great invention and most great achievements are created. We try, we experiment, we evaluate, we tweak, we try again…and each time we get closer to success.
Seeing life as a great experiment; where you get to change the parameters and try different ways to succeed is a better way to see it than thinking the guillotine will fall if you make the slightest mistake. I had a client who had ‘failed’ once and given up on her dream. I encouraged her to try again, having learned from that first experiment…next time, things worked out much better.
Although ultimately you want to get as comfortable as you can with failure, it does hurt, it does sting, it does make you feel bad. Don’t deny how you feel – you’re allowed to be blue. Work on your self-care, go have some fun, mope a bit if that’s what you need to do; express your disappointment and hurt – write it out, dance it off, talk about it with friends. (Make sure it’s optimistic, empathetic friends you share with – you want them to understand, but not to agree with your failure-coloured glasses assessment that it’s all shit.)
Failure is a sign you had a go. When you’re ready, have another go, or try something else, armed with your new knowledge and wisdom. Get back on with your journey, failing again with style, grace, lightness and ease until you find the way to succeed all the time (um, I’m kidding, that’s impossible!)
As one of my favourite quotes, attributed to Winston Churchill, says:
“Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm”