“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” — Denis Waitley
I firmly believe that if you haven’t failed, then you haven’t tried. I am 29 in a few weeks time, and frankly, if you’d told my 13 year old self that I’d have ‘failed’ as many times as I have done so far I’d have been gutted! Yet, in my weakness, I have found a strength and a drive that were previously untapped, and an openness to continue to fail if it means that I continue to learn and improve.
My greatest fear is doing nothing, failing to leave an impression or make a difference. There are a few moments I can pin this to, but the most profound was my Grandfather’s funeral a few years ago. My Grandad (or ‘Babba’ as I called him as a child) was no stranger to set backs or adversity, but as a man of faith he had the unshakeable belief that there was design, and purpose in the chaos. For every door closed, a new one opened. He was a Doctor, and spent a lot of time in both East and West Africa. It was in Kampala, Uganda, that he founded a bible study for locals in the area. A young John Sentamu — now Archbishop of York — was one of the members of this group. What a legacy that is! The subsequent expulsions enacted by Idi Amin meant that my Grandparents, and mother, had to leave Kampala at relatively short notice to return to the UK, but he continued to live life to his fullest capability, and his funeral was testament to this. Hundreds of people packed out his local church in Sevenoaks, all of whom had a story about the impact he had had on their lives.
Now just imagine if he’d given up the first time things became challenging! Just to add a further layer to this example, my Grandfather’s aunt was Rosa May Billinghurst, one of the most notable suffragettes. Leaving an impression in the face of adversity has clearly embedded itself deeply into my family’s psyche!
I’ve made reference to this before in a previous article, but I am driven by discovering solutions. The very nature of this drive is that I wind up, more than most, having doors slammed in my face and see ventures I was convinced (at the time) were THE solution to the problem I faced, fade into nothing. It was gut wrenching the first time this happened, but without the safety blanket of a corporate job I was forced to get up, dust off and drive on. I dealt with feelings of shame, embarrassment, and dread when an idea I’d stuck my head above the parapet for, came to nothing. BUT, with experience comes wisdom. I have learnt, arguably before my time, to see failure as an opportunity to learn and to grow. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla said that “if you’re not failing then you’re not innovating enough”. It helps that he is based in America, as Americans celebrate failure far more than us Brits, but on this point I am certain that there is learning to be taken from across the pond.
In summary, I implore you to try. Don’t be afraid to fail, and if you do, fail fast and fail often. Most importantly, dissect each failure and work out quickly what lessons can be learned. Try, if you can, not to fail for the same reasons twice! Whatever you do, do not sit and do nothing in the hope that you avoid failure entirely — this is a fools errand, and you will look back on your life wishing you had done more.
It can be unnerving, even frightening at times, but you must continue to push on those doors, even if what is behind that door doesn’t initially seem like ‘success’, you will have learned a valuable lesson and grown and matured. Be open to feedback and criticism, but hold onto your convictions and beliefs, as it will be these that set you apart.