Understanding the reasons for why failure is so essential to life is what separates “being good” from “being great.”
We’re taught throughout our whole lives, from the moment we step into a classroom, that failure is tied to the sort of things we as people aggressively avoid. Stupidity, inadequacy, weakness, embarrassment. That big ol’ “F” for failure, compared to that classmate with the almost god-like “A+” (for I don’t even know what) is what separates the worst from the best. Supposedly separates the students who won’t succeed to the ones who will.
Yet, if you listen to anyone who has had high levels of success in their lives, at least outside of the education system, you’ll most likely hear a completely different opinion when it comes to the idea of failure. Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Thomas Edison, Ellen DeGeneres, these people don’t see failure as something they fear or avoid—they actually accredit it to their prosperity. They embrace failure as something that needed to happen in order to reach their tremendously high levels of success and recognition.
So, why the contradiction?
On the surface, the act of failing is the exact opposite of success. So, what we’re taught throughout our years in the education system is not wrong, it’s true that a person who fails is more so inadequate at that moment in time compared to a peer who succeeds.
However, what is wrong with what we’re taught throughout the education system is the idea that there’s no true benefit in failure. You fail, you lose, you’re punished with a wagging finger—now, don’t do it again.
But, there’s so much more to it.
People tend to believe that every single failure is due to a lack of preparation, care, practise or studying. Yet, more often than you think, failure comes from an individual aspiring to be something else. It’s a natural math talent who is passionate about poetry, but just can’t get it right when he tries. A kid with barely any hand-eye coordination that wants to play football like Beckham. A young genius who just can’t sit down in a classroom, can’t pay attention to his English or biology lesson, but has dreams of exploring space. It’s Elon Musk trying to remotely land a space shuttle capsules yet watching it crash-and-burn in the Pacific Ocean. It’s all of these things that will appear to others, who only see the surface of the situation, as straight-up inadequacy.
Yet, deep down, it’s an indication that an individual is willing to put themselves out there, open themselves up to something foreign, dangerous and risky for the hopes of doing the things that they actually want to do. An attempt from a person looking to explore a new set of opportunities that they’ve only dreamed was possible for them.
If we look at failure as an indication of doing something wrong, which has become the instinct for most people, then we naturally influence the hopeful individuals that are trying something else to quit. We fill their minds with the idea that they should only stick to the things they instinctively succeed at, as that’s most likely their natural gift.
In one hand, we tell kids growing up “they can be whoever they want to be,” yet in the other hand, we frown on those who fail. How can someone ever be who they truly want to be without experiencing failure after failure?
If we really believe anyone can be anything they want, then failure has to be embraced. It’s as simple as that.
We need to acknowledge it, delve into why a person wasn’t able to succeed and how exactly we can help them for future success when they try, try and try again. We need to stop fearing failure as if it were the plague, avoiding situations where there’s the risk of bumping into it.
If we do this, if less people see failure as a sign of inadequacy and embarrassment and more as a life lesson to come back stronger the next time around, then it won’t be only the stubbornly persistent or prodigal souls who have the amazing willpower to ignore criticism and the advice to “just give up.”
It could be any one of us. All you need to do is kick down the stigma filled walls of failure and dive head-first into what you really want out of life.