“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” — J.K. Rowling
Failure is a part of life. It’s the very fundamental foundation that all life is built upon. We are who we are because of constant evolutionary failures. Through repeated iterations over millions upon millions of years, those failures helped to create human beings. While most of us might not be able to grasp the enormity of that statement, in the here and now, it’s more than okay to fail. In fact, failure is necessary.
Without failure, we couldn’t become the people that we become in time. While that doesn’t lessen the pain and the agony we must wade through when dealing with failure, it’s most certainly a means to an end. I cannot tell you just how many times I’ve failed and just how painful each and every single one of those times have been for me.
Failure has been the antagonist in my life, rearing its ugly head at every opportunity, waiting for me to slip up. Once upon a time, I feared failure. I became so afraid of it, that I was bound and shackled in a mental and emotional prison, too fearful to make the wrong move lest I suffer again. It was an excruciating place to be locked up.
Thankfully, I’m free from that frame-of-mind. The feeling has washed over me, drawing back the wave of an endless sea of hopelessness, leaving me on the shores of opportunity and prosperity. But before I could get to that state, I failed at just about everything. From my marriage to my business, my friends and everything else in between, you name it, I failed at it.
These weren’t small failures; they were monumental. I felt so infinitesimally small during each one, but didn’t realize the life that it was setting me up for. I had no clue what awaited me on the other end of those failures. It’s funny how things work out that way. Long story short, it’s okay to fail. The bigger the failure, the better it is, in fact.
Why It’s Okay to Fail
There are quite literally hundreds, if not thousands, of reasons that it’s okay to fail. It happens to everyone. However, we spend so much time fearing failure that we forget to experience life itself, to be present and live in the moment, to be happy and grateful for what we have, and to simply enjoy the journey of life rather than fretting over the destination.
If you’ve failed recently, or are even suffering through it right now, I wanted to offer you a glimmer of hope. I wanted to extend a safety rope to let you know that it’s okay to fail. Even if your failure was so big or so painful, and even if it hurts right now more than anything has ever hurt you before, just know this — through that failure you will improve.
You can’t see it in the moment. When we’re going through the stages of grief and anger, it’s hard to pinpoint any rhyme or reason for how our failures will serve us rather than hinder us. But it will. And it’s okay to fail, no matter what anyone else tells you. In fact, there are 8 crucial reasons why it’s okay to fail, regardless of the level of that failure.
#1 — Embrace failure because everyone fails.
As painful as it is to go through failure, it happens to everyone. In fact, the bigger the failure, the more you take away from it. It helps to shatter the ego and instill a more value-driven approach to life that doesn’t exist when we’re riding life’s highs and succeeding.
The problem is that failure has become taboo in our society. We’re flooded with images and videos of people who’ve achieve the pinnacle of success in the arts, entertainment, sports and business. In their shadows, we feel like lesser people when we fail.
While it might feel embarrassing at the time, people can relate to failure. You’d be surprised at just how much support exists when we fail if we just come out and say it rather than hiding it. We should embrace the state of failure because it’s in that state where we ponder our lives and the meaning it should assume.
The other important thing to remember is that even the most famous and successful people in the world who have achieved the pinnacle of success, failed at first. Everyone fails. But we’re usually not exposed to the failure; all we see is the end result of the success portrayed before us but none of the struggles that went on behind the scenes, so to speak.
#2 — Failure makes you dig deeper and reach new understandings.
Life isn’t about the destination of where we’re going in life, it’s about the journey. It’s also about self-discovery and associating meaning to your existence, something we don’t tend to do early on or before we’ve had to endure tremendous struggles.
Failure in life makes you dig deeper and reach those new understandings. It’s okay to fail because it helps to shed light on what you want and where you’re going. You reflect on life, developing new strategies to push through present-day obstacles, finding new ways to approach old problems.
The point is to grow from the failure, to learn and to improve upon your life similar to the way mother nature improves from one iteration of generational organisms to the next. Through failure, nature’s chisel carves us, improving us from an atomic and genetic level. We improve in order to survive.
Allow failure to let you dig deep, submerge the senses, wrap the mind around the situation that led you there, and then, to bring you back through a source of gratitude for what you have rather than what you don’t have. That way, the mind lives in abundance rather than lack and you can use your situation to improve rather than deteriorate.
#3 — Failure emboldens the mind, making you stronger.
Fredrick Douglas once said that “Without struggle, there can be no progress.” Failure epitomizes a tireless struggle that doesn’t seem to relent. It forces you to embolden your mind, giving you a mental toughness that doesn’t exist when you succeed.
When J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, described her own plight of failure, it painted a poignant picture of the strength one must harbor to wade through immense failure. Through her sacrifice and struggle, she pushed beyond her failures, refusing to give up. In turn, she emboldened her mind, grew stronger, wiser and became a better person.
It took Rowling 7 years to write and publish that first book. Through it, she lived in utter poverty at one stage, needing government assistance just to live and support her daughter as a single mother. The amount of pain that it must have inflicted is likely immense.
In a Harvard Commencement speech, where she was invited to speak, she said that “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” Failure emboldened her, and she’s worked tirelessly to ensure that others understand her arduous journey as a source of motivation and inspiration.
#4 — Through failure, you learn life lessons that can’t be earned from success.
Many people know Walt Disney as the man who created Mickey Mouse and Disneyland. They celebrate and laud his success but aren’t familiar with his struggles and his failures. In a movie entitled, Walt Before Mickey, Walt Disney is seen struggling for the 10 years before he created Mickey Mouse.
Disney is seen as the wild-eyed entrepreneur who moved out west to California to pursue his dreams after failing in his home town. He started up a company called Laugh-O-Gram, which he worked tirelessly to make succeed. But in a post-depression economy, he failed to get the company off the ground, eventually having to claim bankruptcy.
He was faced with a situation to sell out to someone else for next to nothing, or push forward to make his dreams a reality. He didn’t give up. Clearly, we know the outcome of his struggles. But, surely, the life lessons he gained from his failures couldn’t have been learned through success alone. It was his failures that made him a better person, creating a foundation for what was to come.
Whatever you’re going through now, know that others have gone through it before. In the two-hundred thousand years since the Hominin species became the Homo Sapiens, surely there have been an infinite number of struggles and failures. The same failures have been experienced by different people countless times over, and they’ll continue to be experienced into the future.
#5 — Failure makes you search for new ways to do things.
There’s a story that goes like this. Hundreds of years ago, a general leading his army to battle landed the ships on the enemy’s shores. As the soldiers disembarked and gathered on the beach to prepare for battle, the general made his customary speech. His goal? Motivate and inspire the soldiers to fight for their country, even if it meant that they died in the process.
However, this general was a smart man. He knew that some of his soldiers weren’t motivated by country as much as they were motivated by other things. Some were new fathers, new husbands and had others reasons driving them beyond mere survival on the battlefield. He also knew that if given the chance, some of those soldiers might try to retreat back to the ships.
His solution? He burned those ships. He set fire to any chance that remained for retreat. Now, the soldiers had to win so that they could march back through to return home. There was no turning back. When you burn the ships, you have no other choice. You look past failure. And even when you fail, you search for a new and different way to do things so that, ultimately, you can succeed.
Thomas Edison is famous for failing over 10,000 times to invent a commercially-viable electric lightbulb. But he never gave up. In an interview from 1921, when Edison spoke to B.C. Forbes of American Magazine, he discussed his so-called failures. To him, they weren’t failures. They simply helped him to find new ways to do things.
“I never allow myself to become discouraged under any circumstances. I recall that after we had conducted thousands of experiments on a certain project without solving the problem, one of my associates, after we had conducted the crowning experiment and it had proved a failure, expressed discouragement and disgust over our having failed ‘to find out anything.’ I cheerily assured him that we had learned something. For we had learned for a certainty that the thing couldn’t be done that way, and that we would have to try some other way. We sometimes learn a lot from our failures if we have put into the effort the best thought and work we are capable of.” — American Magazine
#6 — Failure makes you more empathetic to the plight of others.
In a movie starring Will Smith entitled, The Pursuit of Happyness, which was based on a true story of Chris Gardner, we see the journey of a man who struggled immensely with failure. As a traveling medical-product salesman, he had dreams and visions of grandeur and a better life for himself and his family.
I don’t want to spoil the movie if you haven’t seen it, but to say the least, Gardner suffered through failure, endured near-homelessness and experienced the gut-wrenching effects of having next to nothing in life. That’s what it feels like when you’re down to your last few dollars.
However, it’s just that kind of failure that makes you far more empathetic to the plight of others. It’s that ego-shattering experience that allows you to break the mold of your past and embrace the present moment. That kind of empathy is the pathway to true success.
Empathy opens the door to building true value in the world. Because, when we’re empathetic, we’re interested more in helping others since we can relate better to them. We experienced the pangs of failure and were right there mentally, emotionally and spiritually with others with whom we might try to help.
#7 — Knowing that it’s okay to fail allows you to take more risks in life.
The fear of failure is a big detractor for most people. It’s usually the fear of failure that’s far greater than the failure itself, which stops us dead in our tracks. When we think about engaging in a pursuit or trying to live the life of our dreams, we begin to picture cataclysmic failure and it’s game over from there.
Fear is a big motivator in life. Fear symbolizes pain. And we do more to avoid pain than we do to gain pleasure. Since we associate massive amounts of pain with failure, it’s no wonder we take no risks in life. But that’s no way to live. Even if you’ve failed in the past, don’t be afraid to fail again.
While failure might hurt and people might talk, making us feel like specks of dust, it’s an inherent part of any successful person. People can only succeed through failure. It’s a platform for growth. It’s the driving force for all things in life big and small.
The biggest tragedy in life is moving through it so cautiously that you miss the opportunity to even live. When you’re working within the confines of what you think you’re supposed to do or know or have, that’s no way to live at all. Rewards can only be reaped through risk. Zero risk equates to virtually zero potential for reward.
#8 — Success tastes far sweeter after major failures.
After having failed repeatedly, I can tell you that success tastes far sweeter in the end. When you reach that ultimate goal after endless sacrifice and struggle, there’s almost no greater feeling. If you haven’t experienced that yet, I assure you that in this single feeling, it all becomes worth it.
It’s the culmination of all your efforts and struggles, mental wrangling, overall weariness and physical tiredness that makes the success feel so good. You realize what you had to go through to get there. You know just how many hurdles you had to overcome, how many hoops you had to jump through and how focused you had to be.
If you’re suffering through a failed experience right now, I would say this — don’t give up. It doesn’t matter if you failed dozens of times, hundreds of times, or even thousands of times (like Edison). All that matters is that you succeeded just one time. That’s all it takes.
Simply distance yourself from all the noise out there. Stamp out the negative people from your life and stay on the beaten path. In the end, you’ll get there. As long as you believe that in your heart and soul, you know, deep down inside, that it’s okay to fail as many times as it takes in order to succeed. And in the end, success is most definitely the best revenge.