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
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room, this little thing called failure. I think we can agree that failure is an inevitable part of life. Whether it’s falling during the crow pose in yoga class, getting a new homemade cookie recipe completely wrong, or bombing an exam – the reality is that you and I have encountered failure at one point or another. It’s those feelings that encompass failure that really hit us deep – disappointment, embarrassment, discontentment. We remember those feelings and then try to avoid them by ensuring we never fail again.
When we fail, many of us will dissect it to the point where we wonder what we could have done or what could have gone differently. I personally do this every single time, being the perfectionist that I am. Analyzing our failures can be perfectly healthy if we’re trying to learn from them; however, if the analyzation is coming from a negative place, it can lead to further disappointment and discontent. It can also have detrimental effects in how we decide to live our life. It can lead us to stop trying new things. It can push us to only do the things we know we’re good at and can succeed at easily. It can prevent us from pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone. Sooner or later, the life we’re living may not look at all like the life we truly hope to live.
As I began thinking about this topic, I wondered when it is we actually begin to fear failure. Because as babies, when we’re learning how to take our first steps, nothing scares us. And we’re definitely not worrying about failing. Despite us falling down over and over again, we don’t give up. We continue lifting ourselves up until we are walking successfully on our own. Failure in those moments means nothing to us. As we grow into our childhood, new things and experiences are thrown our way. We jump at the opportunities with excitement and curiosity, without any fear of failure. If we don’t get something right the first time – no biggie – because those feelings of failure haven’t even crossed our minds. I’m not sure when it exactly happens, but somehow, someway, that fear of failure enters our psyche.
As we think about our careers or experiences in our everyday life, a lot of what holds us back is this fear of failure. In the past at work, I avoided public speaking for fear of stumbling over my words or not seeming smart enough to lead a dialogue. The last thing I wanted to do was fail in front of a room full of my colleagues or clients. Have I felt like a failure walking out of some of those meetings? Absolutely. But honestly, as cliché as it sounds, I’m better for it. After falling down and picking myself back up many a times in my lifetime, I believe those failures or missteps are ultimately what have set me up for success. I still get nervous, but I’ve learned through my experiences what to do before a meeting where I’m presenting, which has ultimately prepared me for more speaking engagements and helped me grow into a more well-rounded professional.
I may be a total optimist here, but I’ve put together three reasons why I think failure is a good thing and why it’s so important to overcome that fear of failing.
Failure Helps Us Learn
Being that my hometown sits near the border of Wisconsin, skiing and snowboarding is a popular thing to do in the winter. Because of that, my high school had a ski club. Junior year came around and I decided that I wanted to learn how to snowboard. I joined the ski club and was excited but nervous about my first ski trip to Galena, Illinois. I’m going to spare the details here, but let’s just say that my first attempts at snowboarding were not graceful. Much like my example of learning how to walk as a baby, my learning how to snowboard resulted in a lot (and I mean a lot) of falls. I didn’t really expect to learn it completely off the bat and knew it would take time, but I still felt like a failure. I experienced all those negative thoughts you can imagine I was thinking – “I’m not athletic,” “I can’t do this,” “I’m never going to be able to snowboard with my friends.”
All but one of my experienced friends abandoned me on the bunny hill. For whatever reason, he decided to stay with me and continue teaching me instead of having fun with everyone else. Over and over again, I fell. But with each fall, I learned. I learned I needed to shift my negative thinking. I learned what my weaknesses were and where I needed to improve. I learned new techniques.
Long story short, it took me years before I actually felt confident on my snowboard. But I got there. The point here is that if I had continued letting myself think negatively and been overcome with a fear of falling and failing, I may have just given up. I may have chalked up learning to snowboard as a loss. I may have never gone on another ski trip after that. I may have never gone to Colorado with my sorority in college, where I snowboarded down a 12,000 foot mountain (scariest run of my life, but so damn worth it). But I tried and tried again and learned more snowboarding techniques and honestly even about myself each and every time I got back up.
We can’t let the fear overcome our will to try new things. Have perspective – failure means you actually took a risk and tried something. And you know what? Trying and failing can be a pretty magical duo when it comes to success. Because when we try, we learn. And when we fail, we learn even more. So for that, I encourage you to keep trying. Keep failing. And keep learning. Sooner or later, those failures that seemed so bad at the time will be looked at in hindsight as stepping stones to your ultimate path to success.
Failure Creates New Perspectives & Opportunities
I think back to another example that I wrote about in how I acquired my last few jobs. It was 2014 and I was ready to move on from the job I was in. I was securing interviews with really no problem at all, but for the life of me, could not land a job. It was incredibly discouraging. I questioned my experience, my interview skills, my resume, you name it. It made me feel terrible about myself. I knew that my current job was just not for me anymore, so I needed to push myself to keep searching and keep interviewing. I learned from those failed interviews and experiences to shift my approach and perspective. I decided instead of only applying to open job roles, I needed to also reach out to people in my network. In doing so, it opened a new door of opportunity I wouldn’t have even known about if I hadn’t reached out to a specific individual on LinkedIn. If you’ve read my post, you’ll know that I was able to secure a job a few months later with my current employer. With all my failed interviews, came a new opportunity – and a new job.
Failures often bring unforeseen circumstances and negative feelings, but I think there’s something to be said about that. I don’t disagree that it can feel much like the end of the world when we fail. However, I think when we fail, not only are we learning something from it, but usually, it means there’s something better for us around the corner. Failure is rarely the end of something; in fact, I think it’s often a bright beginning. It may take time and it may take hard work to get there and realize it, but it’s encouraging to know there is a light at the end of the tunnel. When the timing is right, it all makes sense as to why you had to go through those trials and failures.
Failure Encourages Growth
We don’t grow as professionals and people if we’re not failing. Failure pushes us to keep trying so that we can reach our highest potential and achieve our personal best. Going back to my example of public speaking, I have been pushed completely out of my comfort zone to give client presentations or to speak at conferences. In doing that, I have been forced to overcome my fear of failure. It’s been either that, or quit (when clearly that wasn’t an option). If and when I felt like I’ve failed, I learn from it. I change my perspective. I create new opportunities for myself to try and try again. I’ve grown through the experience of falling and picking myself back up, much like I did when I was a baby. You truly don’t know how far you can go until you have tried and failed, and tried again.
When we think of some of the most successful people in this world today, you bet they have experienced failure at some point or another in their life. But they didn’t get to where they are today by dwelling on their failures or deciding to give up and quit. They kept going. That should be enough motivation for us all to see failure as a means of growth.
Instead of viewing failure as failure, let’s look at it with the lense of an courageous attempt you took to reach your goals. Don’t view it as a negative and instead, see it as a learning and growth experience. And remember that if you never fail, you will never succeed.
“Don’t take failure personally. Approach it with an attitude of curiosity instead of using it as proof that you’re not capable.” -Jen Sincero, Author of “You are a Badass”
Kelly Nash is a Chicago-based writer, career coach, speaker and founder of Lipstick & Ink®. She also works full-time in technology as a Role Strategy and Employee Engagement Manager at Salesforce and has over 12 years of digital marketing experience. Kelly has been featured in Thrive Global, Chicago Tribune, International Association of Women, General Assembly, Salesforce, and SheFactor. She’s fueled by black coffee, sunshine, a good ink pen, and a bold lip.