Wednesday, January 1, 2014

You're Supposed to Fail!

If you’ve been attending school for a long enough time, the title of this blog post may come as a bit of a surprise to you.  Growing up and going to school, many of us have been conditioned to always strive for good grades, and to always avoid failing in class. People around us, such as our parents, may have also reinforced this paradigm outside of school, rewarding us for good work and looking down upon any failure.

What is Failure?

Failure seems to always get a bad image, and for good reason when you look at where failure usually comes from.

In school, failure usually comes from being a bad student: not paying attention in class, not doing your homework, not handing things in on time (or at all), and so on. Outside of school, failure seems to generally come from some combination of incompetence and carelessness, which, like in school, is always to be avoided.

But if you ask any older person who has had a lot of experiences in their life, who has built themselves an amazing life, they will all tell you that failure is a good thing. In fact, you’re supposed to fail.

Another Perspective

Let’s look at the causes of failure again. 

When a person fails, it is because the situation that they are presented with exceeds their ability to cope with it. How well a person is prepared for such a situation depends on a number of factors. In school, a student who does not study or pay attention will not be prepared for a test, and will therefore most likely fail. When most people think of failure, they think that the person who failed did not prepare well enough because they didn’t care to put any effort in.
In most cases, that is probably true. But in some cases, the person may have failed because they decided to take a bigger risk than they could handle. Rather than staying within their comfort zone, they decided to leave it, and despite their efforts, ended up failing. So how is this failure a good thing?

Failure, in this case, was not through a lack of effort from the person.  They probably put in great effort, yet they still failed. This may come as an indication of some intrinsic shortcoming in the person that failed, but really, this is a good sign.

To understand why, let us digress a little bit and talk about bodybuilding. 

In order for a person to build muscle, they must first put enough stress on their muscles through some form of resistance (such as lifting weights) that their muscle fibers are worked beyond their limits, to the point where they tear. After the workout when the muscle recovers, the body will rebuild its muscle fibers, except this time slightly larger than before (contrary to popular belief you don’t build muscle in the gym). Your body does this to adapt to the loads put on the muscle. 

For a person to continue to build muscle, they must therefore continuously increase the resistance on the muscle, and repeat this cycle over and over again until they get noticeable results. In much the same way, if we want to progress in our lives, get better at the things we want to get better at, and not remain stagnant, we need to challenge ourselves from time to time.

Sometimes, we need to put ourselves in situations that are out of our comfort zones, where failure is a likely option. It is only then that we are forced to grow, to make the changes in our lives that we strive for. If it wasn’t hard or challenging, we would never truly grow otherwise. Failure itself is an indication that you are pushing yourself in some way, and stepping out of your comfort zone.

Using Failure to Your Advantage

You might be thinking that there are other ways to step out of your comfort zone without having to go through the trouble of failing something to know that you are out of your comfort zone. It’s quite obvious when someone is out of their comfort zone after all. The “benefit” of failure is really the result of the act of stepping out of your comfort zone, and not in the failure itself. But there is more to it than just that.

Being in a situation that is out of your comfort zone is rarely ever pleasing. Our brains are hardwired to always avoid danger (an important evolutionary trait crucial for our survival), which in modern times includes our idea of failure. Although this trait has continued to serve us well for millions of years, in some cases it can hinder our personal development. We avoid things that we perceive as dangerous (even though in the grand scheme of things they are really harmless), and we stick to our comfort zones. Any attempt to leave this comfort zone will result in us naturally wanting in return to it, which in many cases is what happens.

Willingly putting ourselves in situations where failure is a likely option forces us to continue trudging on, to hustle, and to move on forward by any means necessary, since we have no other choice but failure. This inevitably will lead to personal growth as you overcome your challenges. But even if you do fail, your efforts will not be wasted. 

Lessons Learned

Each failure that you experience should further push you towards your desire to succeed. Experiencing and overcoming failure builds strength in you, like the muscle fibers that repair themselves stronger than before when they recover from a workout. It can lead to new insights and wisdom about your situation that you might not have otherwise made, had you succeeded without a problem. Failing indicates that you must be doing something wrong, that your method doesn’t work. When you fail, it is time to re-evaluate, and recalibrate. Treat any failure you have as a lesson to learn from, rather than a setback.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” - Thomas Edison

Failure is a good thing. You’re supposed to fail, because the experience of failure adds more to your strength of character than easily attaining success does. It provides you with more wisdom and experience than if you had not failed. It is true that you can easily learn from other people’s mistakes, but the experience of failure itself is what builds your true strength, and your ability to easily adapt to new situations that you will no doubt encounter, that others have not.

What failure should not do is discourage you, or cause you to give up. Every successful person has failed many times. What sets many of these people apart from other people who don’t achieve what they dream of is that they never gave up. 

“There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons” – Denis Waitley

The only true failure is when you stop trying, and give up.


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