What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? That was engraved on a paperweight (that dubbed as a hammer while I was at school) I got as a gift when I was 17, and those words never left me. My reaction and answer to them have changed a lot over the years, but I keep coming back to them again and again. Take a quick sec to answer that for yourself, and jot it down: what would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? We’ll come back to it in a jiff.
Failure is at times, inevitable. For all of us. That relationship you launched into but just weren’t ready for, the job you left that was not a good fit, the marriage you were – but are no longer – in, the great idea you had that fizzled out, the smart and savvy at the time investment you made that never paid out, the business you started and had to close, the karaoke song you tried but really couldn’t hit the high notes; hell, the shade of paint you chose for your dining room that needed to be re done very soon after.
Sometimes we just don’t get it right the first time around. So knowing that yes, this is a human truth, think about how you react when you do fail? How can we use failure as a means of getting closer to success?
Here are two of the most important things we need to know about failure:
- Every time we fail, we learn.
- The fear of failure is (usually) worse than failure itself.
We need to accept is that we are all flawed. We are human, and are in a constantly looped cycle of try, fail, learn, repeat. This is called evolution, yo. There is no such thing as perfection; perfection is a total illusion. Yes we experience perfect moments, and sometimes those moments are blissfully longer than others, but there is no perfect state. We live our whole lives tangled up in these bodies on a journey of discovery. Cheesy, but true.
Our deeply rooted fear of failure is often disguising a fear of judgment. You know those nasty feelings: “what will people say when I tell them this relationship / business / marriage / hair brained scheme / terrible song choice / shade of white on my wall didn’t work out. Oh my God, what will people think of ME when I tell them I flopped?! What a flake I am; can’t hold down a friendship let alone a romantic relationship. Can’t follow through with my ideas. Can’t even Robyn it up OR pick a freaking dining room paint colour properly. What the hell is wrong with me?”
Learning to let go of those judgments, both real and perceived (and that nasty, crippling negative self-talk) is a good place to start in overcoming your fear of failure. It is safe to say that some of the most successful people you will ever know (or know of) have tried more new things, taken more risks, failed more than your average bear, and learned from each and every one of those experiences. (This would be your cue to Wikipedia Steve Jobs, Michale Jordan and Einstein – for starters.) These people are also the ones who give approximately zero fucks about what other people might think. They just live their life, commit to their purpose, make their mistakes, learn their lessons, try again, and eventually come to a place in which they have an eye popping story to tell at dinner parties. (Or you know, re-invent technology as we know it. Just saying.)
Fear holds us back from not only doing, but trying. We’re so terrified of getting it wrong that we forget we have an equally strong chance of getting it right. In order to start something, you just have to get started; it’s that simple. And I really, really wish I could tell you not to worry, that the guy you’ve been seeing, the rotisserie chicken stand you’ve been wanting to open, the app you’ve decided to get in on the ground floor of, the karaoke contest you’ve entered will all come up rosy and awesome. I also don’t want to lie to you. And sometimes, shit just does not work out. Timing is off, something beyond your control is misaligned, the DJ isn’t paying attention…sometimes, despite our best freaking intentions, things don’t go as we planned.
And when we’re right about being wrong – and actually do fail – how do we embrace that as a lesson we learn from so that we can move on? A lot of that comes from detaching our success from our value. Oh yeah, you knew self-love was going to be a part of this, didn’t you? You need to detach what you do from who you are. Just because your action failed, does not make you a failure. You need to dig down and find the resiliency to try again. And when it comes to relationships, and business, I get it: this is no easy feat.
You may have to force yourself to sort through the layers of twistiness that can happen in failure, and learn the lesson. I bet if you practice this, you’ll learn a boat load of lessons. Grab a pen, or open up notes on your phone, and think of a time in which you still feel some judgment or shame from feeling. Sounds like a real treat, I know. But trust me here. When (not if, but when) we mess something up, we can learn from it, and then use that learning to push us forward. Boom. Success.
Write down what it was that went wrong, and what it was that you learned.
So, for a failed relationship it might look like this:
Had to put on the breaks after things got too serious too fast, and I felt like I was losing myself. I learned what it feels like to be truly seen and heard, and what it feels like to have someone really appreciate you, even if your values don’t align right now. I learned the importance of establishing and sticking to healhty, loving boundaries from the get go, so that I am able to have my needs met in the right way, without giving myself over for the sake of being loved.
Whoa, right? Suddenly that relationship isn’t such a failure anymore, as much as it is an incredible life lesson that you will carry forward into your next relationship. For a failed business it might look like this:
For a failed business it might look like this:
I literally did everything I could to get that rotisserie chicken stand off the ground. I knew my market, I knew my product, and for awhile it really felt like things were moving forward, until they weren’t. Although the business itself didn’t work out the way I had imagined or planned, I did learn how effing capable I am, that I am not as afraid of legal jargon and renovations as I thought, that I am more than able to have the courage to follow my own dreams and try new things, and even how to let go when things just feel way beyond my control.
Damn, Gina. While it completely sucks that your biz didn’t work out, how great is it that you learned a shit-ton about your abilities to start, stop, and bounce back in the mean time. Maybe all that back and forth required in dealing with town officials will steer you towards a career more oriented in public service, or local politics, who knows?
When (not if, but when) we mess something up, we can learn from it, and then use that learning to push us forward? Boom. Success. You have to keep that at the forefront of your mind, and have the courage to try again, building on what you learned the last time around.
Full disclosure: you will very likely not get over your fear of failure in the above 1500 words. But if you allow it, you will let in this seed of contrast to an old pattern of thinking that you’ll probably mess it up anyway so what’s the point in even trying…right? Well darling, here’s the point in trying:
My kids have this book about a girl who loves to invent wild and zany things. After her uncle laughs her off after a failed cheese-copter invention (hello, where have YOU been my whole life, cheese-copter?!) she is reluctant to build anything new ever again. After some gentle coaxing, she builds a plane, that lifts up for a hot minute then crashes down. She can’t even. She’s just done, and dejected. But in the meantime, her great-great-aunt is at her side celebrating. Why? Because just before it crashed…it flew. It fucking flew.
There is nothing more tragic in this life than playing it safe the whole damn time. So coming back to the beginning, what would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? Please. Do that.
And what if you fall? My darling…what if you fly? You will never know until you try. Leap. Risk. Try again. Try it, and be smart about it. Learn how to fail with grace, and let that be your success.