Don’t Worship Failure, Work with It

Gen Kimura
Apr 13, 2020 · 5 min read
Photo by Ian Chen on Unsplash

What is your favorite failure in recent memory?

Unusual question I know, but hear me out…

No Triumph Without an Obstacle

Think of a role model. Whether it be a fictional character on television or your favorite athlete, business mogul, artist, or philanthropist, most of us have someone we resonate with. Think about the qualities and characteristics that make this person your favorite. It may be their character, their accomplishments, their missions. These qualities make them magnetic, it drew you to them.

But more times than not, your connection to these people wasn’t formed through their innumerable successes, it was through learning about their initial failures. Despite their fears, they placed their bets against failure and embarked on something that most people were unwilling to even risk attempting in the first place.

As humans, we’re all familiar with the fear of failure its paralyzing effects. We look up to these people because they didn’t give in. They marched forward, eyes wide, toward their path of success even when confronted by the flashing lights of failure. There are no stories of triumph without overcoming an obstacle. I mean, think about a hero’s journey without a big challenge…ain’t no one watching that movie.

Photo by Road Trip with Raj on Unsplash

Failing to Learn from Failure is Failure

Now look, I want to make the distinction that I am not glorifying failure. There’s a common refrain that I’m sure we’ve all heard of: fail often and fail fast! Let’s be real, no matter how big or small, failure is painful, it’s not a pleasant experience. To fail just to fail, as a result of repeating the same process over and over again without making adjustments is a fool’s errand. Some may say it’s a sign of insanity. A lot of our role models’ stories have demonstrated that failure is an inevitable part of the process, and to succeed, the first step is to put ourselves out there and grant ourselves the opportunity to fail. Failure should only be celebrated if your intention is to take it and learn from it.

A Public Speaker’s Worst Nightmare

So okay…what’s my favorite failure in recent memory then?

Photo by Marcos Luiz Photograph on Unsplash

Last October, I joined Austin Toastmasters to improve my public speaking. After a few weeks, I signed up to give my first icebreaker speech. I practiced for hours and for the first 1–2 minutes of my speech, it was all going according to plan. Until my mind went blank and I could not find the words to my speech. I could hear my heart rate start to race. Feelings of embarrassment started producing heat that I swear could be felt by the entire room. I looked around nervously to a room full of eyeballs around me. Trying to improvise and since my speech was on the topic of fear, to buy time, I made a self-deprecating joke that this is a prime example of fear in action. What was 30 seconds felt 30 minutes. My brain was working overtime sifting through my memory bank. Finally, the words flashed like a thunderbolt in my head and I regained my memory to deliver the rest of my speech.

In the past, I would have let this paralyze me and prevent me from going to future meetings. I would have made excuses, that good speakers are born and that there’s no use in trying. It’s a waste of time. I’m not meant for this…

You Decide Your Failures

Following the Toastmasters tradition for an icebreaker speech, the audience stood up and applauded as I made my way to my seat. The whole experience felt like a blur, as I shook the Toastmaster’s hand, found my seat, and sat down. My mind was like a control room on NFL Sunday, frantically preparing a detailed, slo-mo replay of the performance with a post-game analysis and recap. Asking the important question: how do I feel about my performance???

To my surprise, I was damn proud. Yeah I forgot my speech, but I bounced back and finished strong. In the past, the slo-mo replay would have played over and over again, downplaying my overall performance. However this time, I was having none of that. I was proud. More proud that I was taking the active steps towards the arduous path to become a great public speaker and communicator where failure is inevitable and taking risks is all part of the game.

The “failure” actually motivated me and lit a fire. In fact, what I’ve realized is that there really is no failure involved when deciding to take the rocky path of meaningful personal development over the safe, easy roundabout or avoiding risk and failure.

Examine Failure…and then, Celebrate the Small Wins

In our current age where social media accounts generally display the highlight reel of our lives and not the ebbs and flows that we truly experience, thinking of our favorite failures may seem unnatural. Failure is indeed painful, but its very occurrence is not only an indication for needed adjustments, it’s also an indication that we are taking massive action toward our goals. And action is what turns a nice thought in your head, into reality.

For the first time, I won my first Best Speaker award for having received the highest vote total out of the four prepared speeches this week. A small victory, but important, when reflecting on the progress I’ve made since my first speech. To continue throwing myself into opportunities to create a new favorite failure, I followed it up by signing up to be the meeting officiator (Toastmaster) for the first time next week.

All You Need to Know

Photo by Jungwoo Hong on Unsplash

So a better question may be, what is your favorite failure that led to your favorite success in recent memory?

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