Why You Need to Fail to Succeed

By: Jonathan Guerrera In: Crafting Lifestyle 13 Feb 2010

“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”

-M. Scott Peck

“Success is 99% failure.”

-Soichiro Honda

These two quotes embody my personal beliefs on failure, and I often refer to them when I find myself discouraged after experiencing failure. It’s a shame that most people are taught to adopt a negative attitude towards such failure- when viewed from a difference perspective, it is one of the best things that can happen to a person. In other words, failure is a blessing in disguise. In this post, I will argue that failure is strongly correlated with success in the following three ways:

1) Failure implies having actually made an attempt
2) Failure forces you to acknowledge shortcomings and/or room for improvement
3) Failure makes you stronger and more resilient

Failure Implies Having Actually Made An Attempt

If you have recently failed at something, it implies that you have done something that most people haven’t: you actually made an attempt at success. Those who are afraid of failure often end up doing nothing at all. Whether it’s the guy who is too nervous to talk to the cute girl at the bar or the college student who has never learned to drive a car because of the risk of crashing, inaction is a symptom of fear of failure. People tend to do this because staying within one’s comfort zone and doing nothing often hurts less (emotionally) than putting one’s self out there only to be shot down in defeat. It’s difficult for people to put their egos aside and realize that in the long run, it’s always better to have tried and failed than to have done nothing at all.

Practice makes perfect. If you are intelligently approaching a challenge and are failing despite your best attempts, that simply indicates that you are on the path towards success through practice. Making an attempt and then failing puts you one step closer towards achieving success, whereas inaction leaves you exactly where you are. I encourage you to take a tally of all of the endeavors, goals, plans, and desires you wish to realize in your future and ask yourself: “Why haven’t I achieved these goals yet? Is it because I am trying and still haven’t been successful? Or is it because I haven’t even tried yet?” If you haven’t made an attempt to achieve some or all of those unrealized goals, it’s likely that a fear of failure is keeping you back.

Note: Another common reason for unrealized goals is not enough time. Please review my articles on productivity, which will teach you how to find the time you need to achieve your goals. No excuses! :)

Failure Forces You to Acknowledge Shortcomings

Not too long ago, I convinced myself to start doing practice interviews multiple times a week. I had always been hesitant to do it for seemingly no good reason. Once I began though, I understood why I had been so hesitant all along. I was awful at interviewing, despite my sociable nature. I stumbled over my words and was unable to string a smooth sentence together. Ouch. From that day forward though, I realized how important it was for my professional growth for me to continue doing frequent practice interviews.

In AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), it is understood that the first step towards recovery is admitting that there is a problem. The same goes for personal growth. When someone fails, he is forced to acknowledge his shortcomings. This isn’t a bad thing, considering that no one is perfect. You must acknowledge that there is room for growth (a.k.a. – imperfection) if you want to begin the process of improvement. Those who frequently face failure also have the greatest clarity as to how they can improve and grow.

Failure Makes You Stronger and More Resilient

Spoiled adolescents are examples of individuals who have not been allowed the benefit of failing. In their view of the world, if they complain or act up enough, they will almost always get what they want. If they are never released from this mindset, the real world will be a horribly rude awakening for them.

Failure is something that one cannot avoid in life. In fact, we are hard-wired to learn by trial and error, which makes failure built into how we learn and grow. People who learn to cope with this are more likely to try new things and aim for more difficult goals without worrying about the ego-damaging nature of failure. Salesman cannot achieve stellar sales records without first learning to handle failure. A job hunter who gets discouraged after one bad interview will find it immensely difficult to land a job, especially in the 2010 job market.

Conclusion

Learn to love failure. Learn to learn from failure. And most of all, never let the fear of failure alter the goals you set out to achieve.

Re-read the quotes at the beginning of this post and see if they resonate stronger after having read this article. I have these quotes on my wall near my desk, where I can view them frequently. If you feel you need a reminder as to how important it is to experience failure, I recommend doing the same.

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I'm Jon Guerrera, a life hacker at heart, and the man behind the scenes here at Living For Improvement. This blog documents all of my successes, failures, and lessons learned as I hack my way to happiness and fulfillment.


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