From early in life, we’re taught an unhealthy dread of failure. Yes, I mean dread, as in “avoid at all costs or your life is over.” People think of those who have failed as being stupid (not smart enough to pass a test), suckers (“I can’t belive he/she fell for something so sure to fail!”), and losers (being rejected by the “in crowd”). (Note: I don’t have any scientific evidence to back up that last sentence – but seriously, you know it’s true!) Thus, we’ll do just about anything to avoid failure.
Don’t get me wrong. Not passing exams, losing out on a business venture, or becoming a social outcast aren’t fun, and I’m not advocating we actively seek out those results. I am saying that we need to adopt a different view of what failure is and it’s relative value in our lives.
Failure and Being a Failure are Different
Combining the definitions for failure and failing from dictionary.com, we get this definition of failure: “an act or instance of failing (to fall short of success or achievement in something expected, attempted, desired, or approved) or proving unsuccessful.” Therefore anytime you don’t accomplish what you attempt or don’t achieve the expected or desired result is a failure. So, if you play a hand of poker and don’t win, is that failure? If you try a new recipe and it doesn’t turn out quite right, is that failure? If a baby tries to stand up and walk yet falls down in the attempt, is that failure? By definition, yes they are. However, would a poker play feel he or she is a failure for losing one hand? Would anyone who cooks feel they are a failure because one dish isn’t quite right? Should a baby feel he or she is a failure because it fell? No way! In fact, using the last example, the concept of being a failure is probably foreign to a baby. We know this because the child gets back up and tries again. If it falls another time, he or she tries again. If that doesn’t work – you guessed it – the child tries again!
This highlights a key point: You’re not a failure if you fail; you’re a failure if you quit. I’m about to win the “beating a dead horse” award for pounding on this point to excess because I need to make what I’m saying very clear. By “quit,” I don’t mean stopping for the day to get some rest, nor do I mean stopping because you’ve made an honest assessment that your present skills prevent you from achieving the desired outcome on your own. The quitting I mean is the dejected, resolute decision to give up because you feel you can’t accomplish what you want in any way, shape, or form. At that point, you’ve become a failure in regard to the specific undertaking in question.
There’s something both sobering and potentially stimulating in that understanding. Yes, we choose to become failures. That also means we can choose to not be a failure at any time. If we’re mentally stuck in the failure rut, what are some things we can do to move forward?
Being a Failure is a Choice. Don’t Make It an Option
John Maxwell in his book Failing Forward said, “One of the greatest problems people have with failure is that they are too quick to judge isolated situations in their lives and label them as failures. Instead, they need to keep the bigger picture in mind.” Instead of seeing an event as being either a success or failure, take a long-range view of that event. See how it relates to the bigger picture of your goals. Likely you’ll recognize that the event is just a step along the path leading toward your goal. It likely is a necessary step. “How is that even possible, since I didn’t accomplish what I wanted?” you may wonder. It was necessary to show you what doesn’t work. That event (or attempt) helped you improve your abilities, thus better equipping you to accomplish your goal.
What we need is a new way of looking at failure. Once we adopt this altered viewpoint, failure is no longer an option, because we’ll never look at failure the same way again. John Maxwell listed 7 points that will forever change our view of failure (Failing Forward, pp. 13-17. Thomas Nelson Inc. Nashville, TN. 2000). The third point was “People think failure is objective – it’s not.” There is no standard of failure other than what WE define. The only person that can label an event in your life as being a success or failure is you. Once again, failure is a personal choice. Therefore, decide to not make it an option. I recommend reading the rest of Mr. Maxwell’s 7 points defining what failure is not and his supporting explanations. They’ll give a mental makeover to your attitude towards failure. To whet your appetite, I list them below:
- People Think Failure Is Avoidable – It’s Not
- People Think Failure Is an Event – It’s Not
- People Think Failure Is Objective – It’s Not
- People Think Failure Is the Enemy – It’s Not
- People Think Failure Is Reversible – It’s Not
- People Think Failure Is a Stigma – It’s Not
- People Think Failure Is Final – It’s Not
Failure is a part of life. As J.M. Barrie put it, “We are all failures – at least, all the best of us are.” Embracing that is the key to experiencing real success in life. Understanding that we all fail will help you stay the course until you achieve success. Thomas Edison offers this keen observation, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Don’t let that be you.
- How your most Epic Fail, can turn into a Legendary Win. (tryingtowriteit.com)
- Fail or Move forward. Which is it? (excaliburjeff.wordpress.com)
- Failure in the Workplace – Why It’s Good for Innovation (themarlincompany.com)
- 20 Iconic Quotes On Failure That Will Inspire You To Succeed (wonderplanetx.wordpress.com)
- Turn Failures Into Stepping Stones: 5 Ways (inc.com)
- Failing does not make you a failure (imconfident.wordpress.com)