Why Failure Is Essential For Personal Growth

Key takeaways on adapting to failure from Ray Dalio’s Principles

Alex Yu
Feb 1 · 6 min read
Photo by Lucas Clara on Unsplash

When I was in grade 4, I had to give a presentation on Rocks and Minerals. It sucked.

Afterwards, I wanted to cry. I wanted to teleport home, hide under the bed, and never come out. I compared myself to the other students that went — they talked more confidently, their projects were better put together, their research was more thorough.

It seemed like the end of the world to me.

It sounds silly but we’ve probably all had moments like these, when you’re so embarrassed that you stop thinking logically and you just want to get as far away as possible from the situation.

So why is it like this? Why are we so afraid of failure? Of being criticized? Of producing not so perfect content?

We grow up learning that failure is bad. Failure is undesirable.

Most of us are taught that we should play it safe and do whatever it takes to reduce the chances of failure. And this doesn’t apply just to giving crappy presentations in grade 4. We’re told to get good marks in high school so we can get into a good university so we can get a good job and earn a good salary.

Sometimes taking the path of greater risk will lead to greater reward. Sometimes it’s worth it to play it safe. Depending on your values and what kind of life you want to live, you need to think for yourself about what is true.

But back to the topic of failure. Shit happens, whether you like it or not. And it’s your perspective on things that will shape how you progress as an individual. When we face problems, mistakes, and weaknesses, we can either get overwhelmed and run away from failure. Or we can use the opportunity to learn. To grow as an individual and get better at dealing with painful situations.

Ray Dalio, an incredibly successful investor and hedge fund manager defines five steps that are necessary in order to be successful:

Step 1: Know your goals and run after them

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Everyone has different goals. Defining what you want to achieve in life is an iterative process. When I was younger I wanted to be a garbage truck driver because garbage trucks were literally the coolest thing in my eyes. Now I want to leverage AI to solve some of the biggest problems in the world. What’s super important is that you understand yourself in order to define your goals. Obviously easier said than done.

Step 2: Encounter the problems that stand in your way

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If chasing your dreams was easy, everyone would be doing so. The problems we encounter are usually painful and to evolve you need to identify the identify problems and want to improve.

Looking at things from a hyper-realistic lens is often super helpful. Think about the situation you’re currently in. Not the situation you’d want to be in. If I had a dollar for each time I wished I had a million dollars, I’d probably have a million dollars. But that’s not the way the world works.

Big Dreams + Embracing Reality + Lots of Determination = A Successful Life

Step 3: Diagnose the problem to get at their root causes

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A lot of the time, I find myself jumping to a solution when I’m given a problem without taking a step back and reflecting on the actual situation. How I feel, why I’m feeling this way, etc. The important aspect is being able to know the difference between the symptoms and the disease. Are you solving the actual problem?

Step 4: Design a plan to eliminate the problems

Photo by Med Badr Chemmaoui on Unsplash

It’s super crucial to have an understanding of the situation and yourself because it’s essential to determine how you’re going to get past your problem. Risk and reward go hand in hand and finding that balance is important in determining how you’ll move forward.

Step 5: Execute those designs

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Again, easier said than done. In the end, it all boils down to how important something is to you. If it’s something you highly value, then you’re definitely going to find the courage to push yourself to progress towards your goal.

As you push through this often painful process, you’ll naturally ascend to higher and higher levels of success. I found that when I did it better, my struggling never became easier, because the more capable I became, the greater the challenges I would take on. — Ray Dalio

One mistake I made recently is that I believed I could do everything by myself. Spoiler alert: that’s not how the cookie crumbles. Ray talks about the two biggest barriers everyone faces. The Ego and Blind Spot Barriers. We have these barriers because of how our brains work.

Our ego barriers prevent us from acknowledging our weaknesses objectively. Whenever someone points out a mistake I made, I often shrug it off. I tell myself that “it happened once, I’ll be careful and it won’t happen again.” It usually happens again.

A lot of the time we don’t accept feedback from others because we get angry and defensive even though it makes sense to do so. Think about how much more you could achieve if you took every piece of criticism and applied it to your life.

Everyone is unique in some way. Some people have different skills, ways of thinking, and habits. Everyone perceives the world differently.

I’ve learned more in the past few months than in the past few years by surrounding myself with valuable people and seeing things not just from my own perspective but from the perspectives of others.

That’s when I realized that the best way to go through the jungle of life is with insightful people who see things differently from me. — Ray Dalio

At some point we’re all going to lose something or someone. We’re going to feel like the world is ending. That it’s impossible to move on. It might be a terrible injury or devastating career turn. Failure is inevitable but it’s how you approach it that matters. It’s usually an incredible learning opportunity.

Whenever I’m faced with a difficult choice, I think about it this way. If I try it and it succeeds, that’s great! I never would’ve gotten results if I didn’t do anything in the first place. If it doesn’t work out and I fail, I’ve gained valuable experience from what has happened. I can then apply what I’ve learned to my actions in the future, something I could have never done without attempting something in the first place.

If this was dropped on me as a fourth grader I can guarantee you that I wouldn’t have understood a single thing, but even without a conceptual understanding of principles and personal growth I learned from my mistakes and tried to improve.

Instead of being afraid to present, I practiced and prepared beforehand for my next presentation. And it still terrible but the work I put in showed. Fast forward to now and I’m still working on developing the skills to give world-class presentations.

Learning is an iterative process. Failure is inevitable. But it’s when we learn to accept it, struggle, and evolve that we truly become successful.

Thanks for reading! I’m still learning and developing my own principles for understanding the world. If you enjoyed it, please:

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Alex Yu

Written by

Alex Yu

I’m a grade 10 student passionate about applying machine learning to solve some of the world’s hardest problems and developing my skillset to create the future.

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