Encouraging Failure

How failing sets up constraint and later improvement

I’ve failed a lot in my career. At least two courses in university, working on the wrong projects, not getting past interviews for jobs, and a lot more. So now, I tell people to do the same.

That age old quote, “I didn’t fail 1000 times, I found 1000 ways that don’t work” by Thomas Edison, strikes closest when I think about failure. Personally, I view failure as progress towards a goal, not a set back (unless you let it be one). Failing doesn’t have to mean starting over. It can mean starting again at a different point.

It’s about how quickly you get back up

You’ve heard this one before. Failure is all about getting back up, and it’s true. Didn’t get that job? Didn’t pass that exam? Couldn’t secure a seed round? Take a few to recap, but don’t dwell. Get back up and put in the extra work using what you’ve learned. Don’t ever stay down. Believe it or not, by failing, you’ve progressed more in the long-term. In failure, getting back up is your adaptation to what works and what doesn’t work, and always implies a better next step. And that’s because…

Failure is more valuable than most successes

When you succeed, you learn what you can do. You take on the next task with the confidence to execute with the freedom of knowing what works, but only what works. When you fail, you learn what you can’t do. You take on the next task with the boundaries of caution that narrow your path. You start to make careful decisions instead of rash decisions. You start becoming aware of limits and constraints and work around them. Ironically, by accomplishing “less”, you see more.

Think of it another way: Success is being able to see the next destination ahead of you. Failure is being able to see the next destination ahead of you, and the roadblocks, speed bumps, twists and turns.

Failure is permanent

Failure is permanent. When you fail, it’s imprinted into your mind forever. Despite me saying you shouldn’t dwell, we all do. We let it sulk in. So in many ways, it’s a life lesson, and overtime, as we pile up our failures, we also pile up our learnings. When we tackle new problems in the future, we’ll take everything we’ve learned to set up for success. And when you’ve succeeded after multiple failures, you’ll find that you’re ecstatically relieved. But not because you’ve “finally” done it, but because you’ve finally done it, and you know how it happened.

It’s important to remember: failure isn’t the end. It’s a means of moving towards long-term success.

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