Bill Gates said, “It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” When Thomas Edison was asked about failure, he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” And if the message isn’t clear, C.S. Lewis put it this way, “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward to success.”
While these legends are convinced about the connection between success and failure, many people look at failure as the worst possible outcome in any situation.
Between the group who advocates the necessity of failure and the group who tries to run from failure, only one group is right.
Given the overwhelming success of the former group and my own experiences, I’m siding with the group that values the process of failure in life.
Unrealistic Expectations And Comparisons
The main reason people are so scared of failing is because of a warped perception of success. Our family, friends, and the media highlight high achievers all the time. But, what is rarely mentioned is the years of hard work spent in the beginning to overcome failure to reach their present success.
Many times our only model of success is high achievers at the top of the mountain who seem to make achievement look easy and effortless. We don’t see the entire story of the successful person’s climb up the mountain, where they slipped, stumbled, and wrestled forward. And because of this, we have a misguided view of what it takes to achieve great feats.
Since our expectations are significantly inaccurate, we grow up thinking that we can’t succeed if we mess up and miss the mark of perfection. Or anytime our ability is in question as things get hard, we give up because our mental framework is that the achievers never had these doubts or struggles in their journey. Because of this belief, people live in caution as their worries of failure direct their lives more than their dreams.
Setting The Record Straight
Failure is good for you. Repeat after me, failure is a good experience. When you accept this thought and live by it, your world opens up to brighter possibilities.
You’ll also learn that the more you experience failure, the more prepared you’ll be to overcome adversity in the future.
If you always protect yourself by hiding from any endeavor where you might fail, when you don’t get into the grad school you want, get rejected from multiple jobs, or get your heart broken, you’ll be paralyzed. Your life will hit a brick wall that you can’t get around because you sheltered yourself from failing.
But, a person who has dealt with failure before, will take these circumstances head on and keep moving forward to improve the situation.
In the hope of changing the way you think about failure, I’m going to share a few examples of how failure paved the path for grand success.
At the age of 23:
- Tina Fey was working at the Y.M.C.A. Now she is a famous comedian on SNL and starring in Hollywood movies where she accumulated a net worth of $45 million.
- JK Rowling was broke, then she went on to author arguably the best book series of all-time in Harry Potter.
- A TV station fired Oprah from her first report job, but Oprah went on to become a billionaire who Forbes ranked the #4 celebrity and #64 most powerful person in the world.
- Walt Disney declared bankruptcy, and followed up by creating a timeless Disney brand, which is the world’s second largest media conglomerate in total revenue.
As you read above, failure can be a catalyst to great success. The road splits to the left for the people who let failure stop them, and to the right for those who choose to overcome failure.
How To Overcome Failure
These five steps will help you look at failure with a new perspective so when you face it, you can respond positively and destroy any fear.
1. Expect failure along the way.
In almost any aspect of life, expectations are everything—the same is true with failure. When you don’t expect to fail and then you do, you make it harder for yourself to dig out of the hole.
But, when you expect failure and see it simply as a necessary step on your road to success, the obstacle isn’t as bad. If anything, be encouraged that you’re facing failure because it’s an opportunity to get better as well as a sign you’re on the path to success.
Also, your future achievements will feel so much greater when you’ve overcome failure.
2. Allow yourself to feel your emotions.
If you bottle up your emotions after failing, then they’re eventually going to come back to bite you in a worse way. Instead, it’s best to give yourself permission to feel everything you need to in the moment.
Help yourself by going on a run, punching a pillow (or the wall but it will hurt your hand more than a pillow), or driving with the windows down at night. These actions sound corny, but they work.
When you release the built up pressure of frustration, anger, or sadness, you will be quicker to regain your commitment and focus to move forward.
3. Honestly evaluate what went wrong and why.
This assessment process is the most uncomfortable, but the most critical in overcoming failure. Take a hard look at what you did, hypothesize why it failed, and create a new plan to try tomorrow.
You need a proper adjustment, otherwise you’re going to fail over and over again without making progress.
4. Aim for progress, not perfection.
Perfection is an ideal, not a reality. No one is perfect. So why let yourself go through the agony of comparing yourself to perfection?
Shoot to get a little bit smarter, stronger, tougher, and wiser each day. And don’t worry about not setting the bar high enough. When you get better each day with little wins, this compounds over time into big wins.
Trust the process and one day you’ll be grateful you kept going.
5. Remember these words of wisdom.
This next thought is pretty grim, but it may also help inspire you. One of the most effective ways to overcome the fear of failure in life is remembering that you’re going to eventually die, no matter what.
For this reason, you might as well get over your pride of failing so you’re free to get out of your comfort zone, do your best work, and live your life to the fullest.
Readers, what is one specific thing you’re scared of starting because you might fail? How does failure get in the way of your life? Do you have other examples of highly successful people overcoming early failures?