You know what I’m really great at? Failure. I do it all the time. I do it unashamedly, unabashedly and, if I do say so myself, gorgeously. I am far more proud of my failures than my successes because they are more frequent, more helpful, and more interesting than my wins. And I’m not the first person to note that it’s only by failing at something that we actually learn how to do it. Like RFK said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” So yeah, I’m due to achieve. Big time.
Most of us focus on improving our track record: running faster, getting richer, making a better frittata. As we get older and have gotten richer or made said frittata, it becomes harder for most of us to try anything new because we fear being a novice again. What we rarely appreciate is the true honesty and the awkward joy that fall-on-your-face embarrassment provides. Whether it’s marathon training or potty training. You gotta start somewhere.
Whatever your brand of “I have to kick ass at everything I do” might be, we’re taught that success means doing things better and, even more annoyingly, consistently.
But when we step outside of our calorie-counting, pencil-pushing, Red Bull-chugging craziness, we recall that the truth is that it’s not only okay to fail, but absolutely necessary if we hope to achieve anything that’s actually worth doing.
Forget the cheesy “love yourself and be grateful for shit,” let’s re-examine failure, itself.
First, I’m going to get nerdy with it. Sarah Lewis, a professor at Yale University, remarked that “failure” was a term never intended to be used with people, instead it was originally intended to describe financial bankruptcy. It meant a dead end-a word ill-fitted to describe us humans. After all, people are dynamic and ever-changing, not static and stunted (with my exes being notable exceptions.)
Word porn aside, “failure” should really be called a helpful, albeit unpleasant, learning experience. A mere step on the path to world domination (or an equally over-the-top goal.)
Distance allows you to see things more objectively. The same way you can examine your friend’s love life more clearly than you can your own. Ask yourself, what was good about the setback? What worked? How can you fine-tune things next time?
And if you feel like you’re the only one who’s ever failed, look at every artist, entrepreneur, or virgin, and you’ll be in excellent company. Christopher Columbus “failed” and he got a holiday named after him. Not too shabby if you ask me.
So when faced with a setback (another great word for failure), get curious, invite it out for dinner, bring it into bed with you. Then, like any one-night stand, walk away.
How have you shifted your setbacks into growth? Share your story in the Comments Section below!