Everyone in the world has failed at something. And, for many of us, failure is a daily occurrence. But, could failing over and over be a major precursor to success? And if so, how can we make it work for us?
As the author of a new tongue-in-cheek guide on failure, I figured I ought to know the answer. And, I know the author inside me is just busting to tell me so, “Failure is the greatest success tool we have. I should know, I’ve failed at everything I’ve ever done.”
Intrigued by his enthusiasm for failure, I sat down with that author in me, over a cup of tea, and asked why he, I mean me, I mean we, felt failure is so important and what evidence were we basing this on? “Grab your pen Ken and I’ll tell you” he said.
“Everyone fails at something at some point of their life,” he began. “Nobody creates the perfect masterpiece on their first attempt. It’s why writers write many drafts, why tradespeople do apprenticeships, why kids go to school, why scientists study the universe.
It’s how we learn and how great masters go on to create great masterpieces. And it’s basic physics,” he said, “how can we truly know success if we’ve never known failure? And, how come there are no chocolate biscuits with this cup of tea?”
“We’re on a diet,” I said. “Besides, I don’t know if it’s basic physics? And, what benefits does failure offer?”
Failure teaches so many great lessons – much like an apprenticeship
“Failure is the greatest teacher there is. By failing, you open up new pathways to success you never knew about, it introduces you to new people, places and ideas you never dreamt of prior to starting out,” he said.
“It’s a great motivator. Nobody likes to fail. By learning how not to do something, you learn how to do something the correct way, and do it better each time.”
Failure offers us a chance to grow
“It builds a strength of character – often separates the weak from the strong or the committed from the pretenders – because everybody fails but not everyone goes on. It helps us to keep focus on our goals.
It builds experience, resilience, persistence – powerful life tools for any industry and any people in any walk of life.”
I stopped here to ask a question, but couldn’t get a word in edgeways.
“Often, what failure really means is ‘not right now’. And, most of the time, there’s good reason for this,” he said. “We are simply not ready for the success we want to attain. A lot of the time, we think success should come a lot easier or quicker than it should.
We live in a world where everybody wants success and everybody wants it now; but, that’s not how success works. Success, true success, requires the skills we can only attain through having a go, failing, getting back up and having another go, and another and another.
Success takes inner strength, persistence and resilience.”
But failure is difficult. How to cope
I said, “Okay, failure is important, crucial even. But, how does one cope in the face of failure to go on through the fog and the mist and all the confusion and pain and heartache and onward to success?”
He said my questions were a bit long and ambiguous. “I hate people who waffle” he said. “How I wish I had all day to talk about people who waffle.” Nevertheless, he said there were two clear things to consider when you come up against failure – a sense of purpose and a sense of humour.
I listened and occasionally nodded as I, I mean he, I mean we went on. But, first I opened some biscuits.
“A sense of purpose is paramount, obviously you need a reason to do something; to build a career, forge a new and difficult path or live a better life. However, there are times when a sense of purpose is not enough” he said.
“There are times you’ll want to say, ‘Sod it! I’ve had enough.’ There will be times where you won’t see any daylight through the tunnel and it will seem so much easier to leave and do something else.
“A sense of humour is an absolute must to see you through the tough times, because to win, you’ve got to stay in the game. When you’re feeling deflated and success seems too far away, a sense of humour is the most powerful tool to keep you going.”
“What about a sense of community?” I asked.
Hmm, he rubbed our chin, “A sense of community is great, but it’s not enough,” he deemed. “You see, there’ll be times where you’ll feel others have kicked away and you’ve stagnated, or times you’ll feel you’ve kicked away and others are slipping, and you’ll feel there’s nobody with the knowledge of what you’re facing to guide you through.
You can only keep each other motivated for so long. But, a sense of humour is yours. You own it, it’s personal and it’s powerful beyond compare on an emotional level.
“Skills you can attain. You can learn and grow through failure and persistence as I’ve said. But for this to work, you need to stay in the game. And, sometimes the only way to stay in the game is to look at everything around you and laugh. Learn not to hold success so tight that you strangle it.
Live in the moment, celebrate any small victories along the way. And, understand that failure’s biggest strength is to make you feel alone and worthless.
If you can look failure in the eye and smile, you might just find the strength within you to go on. Either that, or you’ll wind up talking to yourself.”
“Good point. So, even if I agree with you” I said, “How can we get this message out there in order to help those who might be struggling?
You know, the budding entrepreneur and the creative artist who are out there giving it their all but getting nothing but rejection and wondering to themselves if it’s all worth it?”
How to better value failure
“Simply by doing this. Talking about it” he suggested. “By debunking the stigma of failure. Failure has had a bad rap for too long. Everybody fails. Everybody! And, everybody needs to understand that failure is not the end. It’s part of the success process all the way through.
As a society, it’s time to stop ridiculing each other for our failures. It’s time to appreciate the effort, the courage and commitment we have for our ideas, beliefs and goals. We should be encouraged to give things a go without fear of embarrassment or humiliation.
“I’m not advocating for a second that we should just accept failure. In fact, I’m suggesting the opposite; that we should learn to embrace challenges despite the chance of failure. I’m saying we should all get out there and give life everything we’ve got.
We don’t need a society of spoilt, self-obsessed, snotty-nosed, sooky sooky la las (we’ve got enough of them running our country as it is). We need resilient, strong, open-minded, hard-working human beings that come from experiencing life.
So please, if you take nothing else from this, understand that, like it or not, at certain points in our lives we will fail. But, it’s how we learn to handle that failure that will determine the people we become.”
He paused. I waited. “I’ve waffled on enough” he said. “Now, get out there and fail, you losers!” I thought he was talking generally, but no, he yelled again and told me to get out. “And, leave the biscuits.”
Ken Williams is a serial failure-ist and author of the humorous guide book, How to Fail Fantastically. For more information about failure, Ken has a website. He designed the site himself, you know. Epic Fail.