Words of Wisdom

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How to Fail

From a young age, we are taught to avoid failure at all costs. In school, failing is the worst grade you can receive. And, as a result, a student may be held back, forced to re-take a class or engage in supplemental learning to avoid failing again.

As we get older, the implications of failure can become more serious and longer-term. Failing at the college or grad school level can mean not obtaining a professional degree that could help you to work in your chosen field. It could mean a permanent mark on your transcript that could impact your ability to pursue further studies or certifications. Or, it could simply force you to leave your dreams behind and move on to something where failure is less likely.

By the time we enter the professional world, we’re trained to fear failure. Failure at work can mean losing your job, or worse. However, if we fear failure, we may not take the risks that can reap great rewards. If we fear failure, we may miss out on learning opportunities. And, if we fear failure, we will not innovate. We should not strive to fail, and we should do whatever we can do to avoid it. But when fear of failure prevents forward momentum, we need to conquer our fears.

It is also important to keep in mind how we define failure (or who is defining it for us). Failures can be more nuanced and subjective in the corporate world. And a failure can depend on who is judging your actions. Often we are our own toughest critics.

As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned to put failure in perspective and use fear of failure as motivation for forward momentum. Here are a few reasons why I think failure is an important part of learning and growing:

  1. Every failure is a learning moment
    Failing is only a bad thing if you didn’t work hard to avoid it. If you do all you can do to avoid failure, then you should be proud of your effort—and take the opportunity to learn what didn’t work. As long as you learn from it, failure will be less likely next time. And if you talk about your “failures,” others can relate and learn from you as well.

  2. The Risk/Reward See Saw
    I’ve come to learn that the enjoyment of each “success” is directly proportional to the chance of failure. With each new venture, your chances of failure increase, but so do the chances of doing something truly exciting and different.

  3. Failure is not always in your control
    Many people tend to blame themselves for every failure. But, the reality is that failure is dependent upon many factors, some of which are not within our control. Market conditions, supplier issues, competitive actions, personnel issues and the list goes on. Recognize what you can and cannot control; if you can’t control it, you shouldn’t fear it.

There’s no question about it. Failure sucks. But fearing it can be worse. Stare it in the face, and move forward.

As always, thanks for reading. Please feel free to comment.