Why failure is so important
When I was about 12 years old, my parents signed me up for the swim team. Being raised in Florida I was no stranger to the water, and thought myself a good swimmer. But the first week of practice was a bit of a shock. I lacked skill and stamina. Sure I could keep my head above water, but by comparison I was an aquatic newbie. The exercises were hard, and the pool got longer and longer. Like a belly flop from the high-dive, my pathetic performance slapped me hard. Then came the sinking feelings of inferiority. And it wasn’t just in my head. I didn’t have what it took to compete, even against 12 year olds.
Twice my lifetime later, when I was about 24, my company gave me the opportunity to fly to the East Coast to conduct a sales presentation to a group of accountants. These were veteran CPAs and bookkeepers. And yours truly was demonstrating the new accounting software. I prayed the laptop didn’t crash. I wish I’d paid more attention in the training sessions. My 90 minute presentation felt like crossing the English Channel. I floundered. I sucked. They left. No one bought.
I got a lot more stories like this. Thankfully I’ve got some more enjoyable ones too. But I’ve learned that if I’m not careful, the failure experiences can add up in my mind. It’s easy to put too much weight on failure. The key is to learn from failure, and move on, choosing not to live it over and over. Failure is part of life. And in perspective it can help us live a more balanced life. We should not, afterall, think of ourselves more highly than we should.
So here’s a few things I’ve learned about failure:
Failure can be good. If we learn from it, we can get better. And we don’t have to keep making the same mistakes over and over. We can grow.
Failure reminds us we are still students. Life can be a great teacher. So it’s healthy to adopt a teachable attitude, so we can learn lessons from our everyday experience.
Failure is like fire. It can be useful if managed properly. And sometimes it’s best not to process this alone. The greater the severity, the more skilled help you may need. If you’re not careful it could get out of hand.
Failure reminds us the world does not revolve around us. Other people matter. How we treat others matters. Perhaps we should be more considerate in the future. If we want real, lasting, loving relationships, don’t be an egomaniac.
Failure makes success sweeter. What’s easy isn’t valued. What’s rare or hard is precious. Quality takes practice and persistence. Craftsmanship is never an overnight cram session. Only after much trial and toil is quality produced, and success within reach.
Failure brings priorities into focus. What’s really important to us? Maybe the U.S. Swim Team is not in your future. Fine, well now you know. Be willing to try. Risk failure. And find out what you like, what you love, and what your priorities really are.
Failure challenges misconceptions. I thought it would be easy until I saw how high the bar was set. I thought I could speed and not get caught. I thought I was a great public speaker. I thought I was indispensable to my boss. Etc etc. Healthy perspectives come from both success and failure. And we should be able to view our lives through the lenses of both.