The Power of Failure
I did it…I failed… Not lightly at all but rather hard. Failing hurts; but it’s genuinely the greatest unknown feeling that I have ever experienced.
You see, up until this point, I had it very easy and my life looked perfect. I was gifted with everything a man could wish for in his life. A good, loving, kind and healthy family, surrounded by amazing friends, great education, good job for a great company, no financial issues…but I had never failed.
However, everything changed a few months ago when I went through my first real life failure. A personal one.
Growing up, I was always very cautious to avoid failure. Failure always looked to me like the kiss of death. I would constantly ask myself: “What is the purpose of trying something new if you have the potential of failing and being miserable,” so I would always pick the option laying in front of me that would assure me security and peacefulness, but not necessarily the one that would make me thrive.
I always saw my fear of failing as an obstacle to my own personal growth; I am frequently told that I would be a great entrepreneur, but I never had the courage to make the jump into that career path because deep inside my fear of failing paralyzed me.
My “picture perfect life” just looked way too good to take a risk on messing it all up.
In spite of this, I failed. When you fail (if you have the chance to fail one day) you want to scream, shout, and be left alone. You usually are scared of the unknown future, petrified of getting yourself in the same situation again. You have your inner self regrets about the whole situation in the first place and sometimes you are even judged by your surrounding, but it’s the greatest feeling that you will ever experienced. You shouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I didn’t.
For the first time, you will be alone (yes you are alone when you fail even if people offer their financial and emotional support). You can’t lie to yourself. It’s time for a “ Cheshbon HaNefesh “ — accounting of the soul in Hebrew. With the balance sheet of your life in front of you, you now need to find errors in the accounting and adjust the numbers. You need to understand why you failed and how to move forward.
You can tell yourself that everything is fine and sweep every fear, feeling, and emotion under the rug. I did it for years, but trust me it’s not worth it. Embrace your mistakes and failures.
Throughout my years in NYC, I got close to multiple amazing entrepreneurs, but one really had an impact on me. While I was going through my personal failure, he was going through a tough professional challenge himself. We discussed the ugliness, hardships, disappointments, and emotions that come with failure and he replied to me: “It’s hard. It’s very hard. It hurts. The moment you realize you failed and you have to call it quits. It’s painful. It hurts. But we need to take time for ourselves and we MUST go back at it. Harder, stronger, more prepared … but we MUST go back at it!”
He made me think of a recent speech that I heard a month ago.
My CEO Llyod Blankfein said in a talk to our interns: “ All the frustrations, the detours, the disappointments — I think that’s a lot more instructive and educational than a finance education […] I recommend studying history over economics or markets because history is reassuring. You can read about people who failed five or six times before accomplishing great things.”
From all this, fail. Let yourself fail. It’s okay. It hurts when you “land on the floor,” but the moment you lift your head up to see if “you have room to get up” the failure is not called failure anymore but experience.
I recently read “Shoe Dog” the amazing biography of Phil Knight, founder of NIKE who describes his challenging journey from a simple boy with dreams from Oregon to building an empire.
He writes: “ If the company went bust, I’d have no money and I’d be crushed. But I’d also have some valuable wisdom, which I could apply to the next business. Wisdom seemed an intangible asset, but an asset all the same, one that justified the risk. Starting my own business was the only thing that made other life risks — marriages, Vegas, alligator wrestling — seem like sure things. But my hope was that when I failed, if I failed, I’d fail quickly, so I’d have enough time, enough years to implement all the hard-won lessons. I wasn’t much for setting goals, but his goals kept flashing through my mind every day, until it became my internal chant: Fail fast.”
I have no idea what the future holds for me and I have no idea what the future holds for you either. I’m scared, very scared. The “what ifs” are rushing through my head mornings, afternoons and evenings. But by letting myself fail, I had the chance to dig deep in my goals, life desires and meaning / purpose of life as a whole. Every action that I took since my failure had way more meaning and impact on me and moving forward. Every decision that I will make will have way more meaning and will help me become a better son, better brother, and hopefully one day a great husband, a great father and an amazing entrepreneur. A great person.
One of the most precious advice that I got in the past few months was: Create your mission statement.
Every company has a mission statement. It defines, in two or three lines, the goals and purpose of the daily activities of the company. For example, Starbucks’ mission statement is: “Our mission: To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” Nike’s mission statement is “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”
Every person should have a mission statement. You should ask yourself: What is your goal? What is your purpose? Why are you fighting everyday? Having a personal mission statement helps you to see beyond your own failures. Because your mission statement is your end goal and even when failing, your mission statement as a person and as human didn’t change because your end goal didn’t change.
Having a mission statement lets you see further than today, further than your current failure. It gives you the purpose that you need to get up and keep going.
The world recently lost two great human beings, Eli Wiesel and Shimon Perez. Both of these human beings, tirelessly fought for peace in the world. That was their mission statement. It didn’t matter how hard they had to work and how many times they failed, they dedicated their entire being to bring peace to the world. Interestingly enough, they both got rewarded with the peace Nobel prize.
The few lines written were put together for the sole purpose of me sharing the few lessons that I learned.
As I am writing the last sentences inspired and grateful for the experiences in my life, I will tell you the same thing that I remind myself every day: Keep going and keep smiling because life is a long journey that is worth traveling in. The lessons you will learn about the obstacles you will face in trying to create something are priceless.
“You never know how strong you are, until being strong is your only choice.”