Failure is something we fear but is inevitable for growth. I know in my own life, whenever I’m not “failing” it usually means I’m not challenging myself. In the short term things may seem to stay the same but that is rarely true in a creative business. You either grow or you die and growth requires a temporary surrender of security.
I was fortunate to have parents who encouraged me to pursue my dreams. They taught me that anything was possible if I wanted it badly enough and was persistent. They also taught me that failure is rarely fatal but there would be missteps and mistakes along the way.
These were important lessons to learn, but at the time I thought my parents were being cruel when they pushed me to keep trying. I thought they didn’t understand what I was up against. The thing is, they did understand but they knew that in order for me to achieve my goals, I would need to accept that there would be failures along the way. The key would be to learn from those failed attempts and not let them defeat me.
Singer songwriter Jackson Browne writes a lyric “Don’t confront me with my failures, I have not forgotten them”. I have not forgotten any of my failures, but I have tried to learn from them and not let my missteps stop me. It hasn’t been easy, but I have found that I am able to endure the setbacks when I am truly committed to the pursuit.
There is a pattern in how I react to my failures. At first, I’m devastated and feel sorry for myself. Then I’ll usually seek someone to talk to – someone who will be totally candid and look at things objectively. Sometimes, I get angry because they point out things that I could have done better. After a few hours or days of grumbling, I realize my bad attitude isn’t helping me reach my goal so I revisit the task and try again.
My folks died many years ago but their words of wisdom still echo in my head. Whenever I let my fears immobilize me, I hear my dad asking me “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” I hear my mom telling me “You don’t fail until you give up”. Somehow those words get me through my obstacles and I find the strength to persevere.
As the parent of a “millennial” I used to get annoyed with the philosophy of the day: “everyone is a winner”. I thought, if we don’t allow our children to lose or fail, how would they be able to appreciate their wins and successes? We were robbing them of the joy and self-confidence that comes with “earning” those successes.
Failure is part of the balance of life – the yin and the yang. In order to achieve anything great or original we need to accept that failure is part of the process. No doubt, when my daughter was growing up and I prodded her to “give it another try”, there were probably times when she thought I was being cruel. She’s 27 now and on her own but it brought a smile to my face recently when she told me “Thanks Mom, for teaching me that failure isn’t fatal.”
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
Robert F. Kennedy