Don’t Fail at Failing!19th Nov '15 • 3 of your Earth minutes
Don’t Fail at Failing!
“Fail fast, fail often.”
“If you don’t fail, you won’t succeed.”
“Fail! Fail! FAIL!”
We are in a fail culture. Not just around Silicon Valley, startups and the whole process of build-test-refine product development, but in life in general. It’s become socially acceptable to slip up, make a gaff, to be imperfect… to the point where it’s now de rigueur to fail intentionally.
But it doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, or what you do:
Nobody’s perfect; we all make mistakes — intentionally or not.
There was a time when people strived for perfection, when every undertaking and endeavour was done so in all earnest or not at all. To fail was to err and this was a ‘sin’, something that was very difficult to recover from.
There were many factors creating such a (some would say ‘difficult’) attitude towards failure. Socially, religiously and economically, failure was unacceptable. And some still feel pressured by these external sources, constantly perfecting their creations and never finishing them.
So in many respects, it’s relieving — even invigorating — when considering the current attitude towards failing. It certainly doesn’t have the stigma it once did.
Regardless, failure is still failure. And no matter what we tell ourselves, how we sugarcoat it, how quickly we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and carry on again, failure comes at a cost.
The Cost of Failure
Generally, I’m not the sort of person to reminisce too much about the past. I’ve got lots of happy memories and a few sad ones too. All of them make me who I am today and will impact my biases and choices in the future.
For this I’m thankful. I do not disregard my past and the lessons it’s taught me. But I truly believe that there’s no point in crying over spilt milk.
Still, reliving some elements from your past can renew your zeal towards the future. You can impress and reinforce the lessons learned, not just to your present and future self, but even to others. As long as hindsight doesn’t drag you into the depths of despair and depression (which can sometimes happen, if you allow it to), it can be a force for good — in your life and others.
Make no mistake though: failure is always a negative. Its results and its lessons can be a positive, but by its very nature it is negative. If the wrong thing happened and we called it ‘success’ we’d be deluding ourselves.
As a negative and quite often painful process, failure can cause feelings that our minds struggle to release: guilt, remorse, regret. At the very least, we recall our failures more often and for far longer than our successes as they become etched into our psyche.
For example, even now, I can still feel the embarrassment of a time I danced like a total idiot in front of a couple-hundred friends — epic fail. Thank goodness YouTube and smartphones weren’t a thing back then!
Perhaps that’s an innocuous example that can just be laughed off, but it’s surprising how often things like that come into my mind. I have failed at plenty of other, more important things.
The key lesson I’ve learned from failures is: If you don’t have a forward-thinking, hopeful and positive outlook towards your personal future, the weight of past failings playing on your mind can really hold you back.
This is probably the most important reason for the fundamental shift in how we’re being encouraged to perceive and consider our failures.
The first step is recognising what you failed at and why. Then you can try again. Don’t forget to give yourself this time to debrief. Get it clear in your head what went wrong and why, then you’re less likely to repeat it.
I still ‘dance’, I just try not to dance like an idiot any more. The embarrassment taught me a measure of self-control.
Hasn’t made me a better dancer, mind you…