The only failure you should be ashamed of is the one you let defeat you.
In life, some of us just have to learn things the hard way. I don’t really know why. It’s just the way we’re built, I guess. Our lessons are learned through the pain and suffering of experience. Personally, I have learned what not to do more often than I have learned what to do. And while I wouldn’t recommend this learning style, it has taught me one important thing: No matter who you are, you are going to fail at something, at some point. The silver lining is that in every failure there is a lesson to be learned. And if you want to succeed, you must start learning from your mistakes to avoid repeating them.
“Failure is not an option.” We’re all familiar with the phrase. Most of us have been trained to believe that failure is a shameful thing to be avoided at all cost. But I would argue that it is an important part of life. And if you want to be successful, failure is not an option; it’s a necessity. (I think this dribbble shot by Jake Fleming illustrates that nicely.) Because some of the most important lessons are learned by getting your hands dirty, making mistakes, and learning from them. So, to be clear: It’s okay to fail. I’ll spare you the overly used, tired examples of Thomas Edison and Michael Jordan’s success rates. Suffice it to say, nobody bats a thousand. (That’s a sports reference.)
Just Do It
Sometimes the only way to learn is to do. It’s true. There is only so much you can learn from the experiences of others. Sure, it’s good to soak up as much knowledge as you can to avoid as many pitfalls as possible. But no matter how well equipped you are, at some point you are going to find yourself in a situation that no book or blog or piece of advice could have prepared you for. At some point you’re going to screw up, all by yourself. That’s life. And if you handle it well, you’ll be better for it. Maybe you can share your experience with someone as advice. Or at the very least, you’ll have a new anecdote to share at cocktail parties.
For most of us, the fear of failure is worse than failure itself. In my career so far, I have failed more than I have succeeded. That doesn’t mean I’m not afraid of messing up. My experience hasn’t made me immune to anxiety. Even as I write this, I’m scared that someone will see me for what I feel like: a fraud. But it’s important not to let that fear paralyze you. Like I said, though, usually the fear is worse than the actual thing. Let’s try another baseball analogy. When first learning the game, most of us are pretty nervous about getting hit by the ball. But, oddly enough, the quickest way to get over this is to let it happen. Once it’s over, you realize it wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be. It didn’t feel good, but it didn’t kill you, either.
Okay, so we’ve established that everyone makes mistakes, and it doesn’t mean the end of the world. (Unless you’re Chuck Norris. Thankfully, he never makes mistakes.) So how do we go about learning from our failures? Here are some suggestions that I have personally found to be useful:
It can be tempting to want to put the past behind you, try not to think about it, and forget it ever happened. In my experience, forgetting your past mistakes is the first step toward repeating them.
There’s a reason they say hindsight is 20/20. It’s usually pretty easy to take a look back and see what you could have done differently. Armed with that knowledge, you can avoid making the same mistakes in the future.
Turn Failures Into Strengths
Here in Texas we have a saying: “Remember the Alamo.” The Texans were defeated at the Battle of the Alamo, but today the Alamo is an official state shrine, and the most popular tourist site in Texas.
Everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect. Stop trying to be perfect. Real success doesn’t come from never making mistakes, it comes from picking yourself off the ground and learning how to do better next time. So work hard, do your best, and when you fail, don’t let it defeat you. Keep trying. Keep failing forward. Gotta fail to succeed.
Originally published at alexmacduff.com.