“If you have the courage to fail, then you’re on the right track.” Someone once told me that vague and infuriating piece of advice, and like the proud creature I am, I scoffed. I had been taught my whole life never to fail at anything, and this lesson was ingrained in me from a young age. All my life, I had easily succeeded at anything I was asked to do. Since first grade, I was top of my class with ease. I nary studied for a test in college, preferring to just take diligent notes and hope for the best, and it was surprisingly a formula that paid off. Until eventually I realized that in Big Bad Real Life, it is quite easy to fail, and not the odd Astronomy exam. It is quite easy to fail at building your life and reaching your dreams. So figuring out that hardly trying was not going to lend me stunning levels of success, while something I already kind of figured, was nevertheless a shock to my complacent system.
However, since failing in small and large ways in that aforementioned terrible and wonderful Real World, I’ve learned a thing or two about failure that has turned it from a foe into a friend. Like…
1. Failing means you’ve tried to do something difficult and worthwhile. Nothing has been achieved without intense hard work, struggle and yes, failure. If you have never failed at anything, it’s probably because you’ve never taken a risk. Playing it safe and never branching out doesn’t mean you’re a success; it means you were too frightened to try. Complacency isn’t success.
2. Failing lends you understanding of your level of determination. If you’ve failed spectacularly at something, or even if you haven’t reached a goal as fast or as easily as you thought you would, now is the opportunity to evaluate how far you’re willing to go to get what you want. Failing tests your resolve and your determination. It also tests your desire to reach your goals and dreams, whatever they may be. Without failing, you may never know how much it means to you to finally succeed.
3. Failing on a large, epic scale means you have nowhere to go but up. JK Rowling once gave a commencement speech at Harvard University in which she told a bunch of the most successful students in the world that one of the most important things you can do in your life is to fail. Now, you probably know that JK Rowling is both one of the most successful people in the world now, and that she was one of the most spectacular “failures” before all that success happened. So we listen to her sage advice. She said, “Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way.” Hear, hear!
4. There’s no shame in failure. Everyone fails. I tend to think of myself as the only one who has ever experienced setbacks, obstacles and failures. Failure is something no one really talks about openly, because we tend to think to fail is shameful. Failing isn’t shameful. It’s natural, and it happens to everyone. We should be able to talk about our setbacks and our insecurities, and realize that we’re all in this together.
5. Fear of failure is worse than failure itself. I’ve always been terrified of failure because I assumed that once you failed, that was it. There was no second chance. I was horrified at being branded with that terrible word, horrified at the shame of being associated with anything other than stunning success. I was so terrified of failure that it loomed so large in my subconscious, this massive boogeyman I couldn’t shake. I didn’t realize that that fear of failing was so much worse than actually failing.
6. Failure is a powerful motivator. Fear of failure made me work hard, but it also meant that I was afraid to take risks outside of what I was comfortable with, because that fear of rejection, of stumbling and falling, kept me from takng chances. So that fear is definitely a powerful motivator, but failing is much, much more powerful. Once you have failed, you have nothing left to be afraid of anymore. All you can do is try again.
7. Failure strips away illusions. For those who are brave enough to face it, failing tells you the harsh truth. Maybe what you’re doing just isn’t working. It’s time to change tack. Failing teaches you what works and what doesn’t.
8. Failure gives you strength. It sets you free. The incomparable Lana Del Rey once said, “It takes getting everything you ever wanted and then losing it to know what true freedom is.” Losing everything you want lends you a sense of security, knowing you can’t lose anything else. The only thing left is to choose between a. doing nothing and b. building yourself back up a little bit at a time. This freedom—the freedom of knowing you have nothing to lose—is one of the major benefits of failing really hard.
All of these reasons are why it’s now one of my life goals to fail…ironic, no? If I fail, it means I’ve become stronger, wiser, less afraid, more experienced, and I’ve climbed one more small rung on the way to the top. Where I will rule the world.