Failure sucks, but the way we talk about it sucks even more. We’re told we fail because we didn’t try, because we gave up, because we didn’t believe. When it comes to thinking about failure, we accept these as a given because of course, they’re true – right?
Not trying, giving up, and not believing are all symptoms of our relationship with failure. Failure is nothing but a word that we define through our perspective on achievement. Whenever we set ourselves goals, have dreams or desires – we expose ourselves to failure.
Or in other words – whenever we live, we inevitably fail.
But if failure is such an essential element of living, why does it cripple us so much? Why are we so afraid of it, and why does it warp our self-perception? I believe it comes down to how we perceive failure as a concept – and how that concept permeates our response to failure itself.
- YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT FAILURE MEANS
We experience failure in two ways – fear of failure, and feeling like a failure. Fear of failure prevents us from taking the necessary actions to achieve our goal, and feeling like a failure is what halts our progress when we don’t feel like we are going to achieve what we set out to achieve.
Both of these concepts thrive on our understanding of what failure signifies. In the instances above, failure signifies defeat; an end point; finality. But does failure really signify these things?
In the myriad histories of human achievement, the stories are paved with the stepping stones of failure. Thomas Edison’s lousy prototypes, J.K Rowling’s hopeless first drafts – the list is endless. Failure is an essential part of the process to achievement, and in this lies what it truly signifies:
If you’re failing at your goal – this means that you’re actually trying to achieve it. And that’s a good thing.
You cannot fail, if you do not try. This idea is fatal to the concept of fear of failure and feeling of like a failure, because under this perspective failure is a positive. Failure when viewed in this light is something that welcomes us, not something that deters. Like notes on a page constructing a symphony, failure is the building element of achievement.
- YOU HAVE A SCREWED IDEA OF LIFE
Conceptually failure is a positive, but road blocks on any journey are tiring. Life isn’t an upward slope. It’s marred by trauma, bereavement and failure. To look at life and see a rosy picture is to ignore the brutal reality that is often presented.
Life has its ups and downs. Failure is one of these downs.
Accepting this and trucking on is a quintessential element of our relationship with failure. We have to be able to shrug our shoulders, and try again. It’s not going to happen first time, but every time we fail, we’re a little bit closer. We’ve got to learn to take the hit, and carry on.
We’re told we fail because we didn’t try, because we gave up, because we didn’t believe. But I believe the truth is we don’t try, we don’t give up and we don’t believe – because we view failure in the negative, and we don’t understand that yes it is a certainty – but it’s also okay. It’s just one part of life – a part we should welcome.
- YOUR GOALS SUCK
Mark Twain once wrote:
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”
The idea is a simple one, and is quintessential to the most important trick I know for combating the feeling of failure. I call it: Failure through perspective.
The trick is this: when we set ourselves a goal of say ‘writing a book’, ‘starting a business’, ‘losing weight’, we unwittingly expose ourselves to one of the biggest bullshit elements of the human mind – that our happiness is intrinsically linked to what we choose to focus on. When our goal is to write a book, we see the unwritten book. When our goal is to start a business, we see a profitless idea. When we want to lose weight, we see a flabby reflection.
And we quit. Often returning to the activities that caused our lack of progress in the first place – such as procrastination or overeating.
The problem lies in how we’re viewing the problem. We’re viewing our goal as the end result, rather than the steps taken to achieve it. I believe this comes in part from the way we view success and achievement as a culture – we view it as a vision being brought to life. Cue Arnold Schwarzenegger quote here.
But this just doesn’t reflect reality. A novel isn’t written in a day, it’s done page by page. A business doesn’t turn a profit overnight, it generates one over years. A body doesn’t slim down at the first salad and gym session; it does so after the hundredth.
Our measure of success doesn’t reflect reality; it represents the end point – born from our hero worship and culture rather than reality.
A better solution is to focus on achieving the elements that result in the goal we ultimately want. Writing a page a week, a paragraph a day – constitutes a novel over time. Just as the days of product design, branding and networking constitute a business and the unopened Soda Cans and ignored McDonalds constitute a leaner body.
The echoes of failure in our mind stem from how we look at our goals. Perhaps it’s time to start looking with new eyes.