Monday, June 20, 2011

The Joy of Failure

I've been thinking a lot about failure recently. I struggle with blaming myself for everything, seeing every misstep as a failure, and subsequently suffering from a paralysis to try again.  Leaving my job triggered a lot of these negative thoughts, and I've been trying hard to work through them.

We recently had two guest speakers in class, Peter Popovich and Tom Wright, who spoke with us about failure and its blessings.  While they were mostly focused on the business aspects of success and failure, their talk came at a fortuitous time for me.  Two points really stood out for me.  I love the following quote, as I tend to confuse being a failure with failing.

Notice the difference between what happens when a man says to himself, 
“I have failed three times,” and what happens when he says, “I am a 
– S.I. Hayakawa 

The second point that Peter made was avoiding fear - of failure, of losing, of things not working out perfectly.  Replacing the word "fear" with curiosity is an interesting mental trick, and one that I will definitely try to use.  

They also recommended The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharpe, which discusses the inevitability of failure.  Again, this is something with which I really struggle.  I have such a hard time accepting any failure, however minor.  Small setbacks tend to send me into a tailspin, and I struggle against the temptation to label myself a failure.  

I wrote the above quote on a post-it note and stuck it to my mirror. It's my goal to see failure as an opportunity, not as the end of the world.  I didn't fail in leaving my job - I simply opened up a plethora of new opportunities.  

What does failure mean to you? Do you feel comfortable taking risks, even with the possibility of not succeeding?


  1. I think the discussion of failure is fascinating. I'm not sure why some people get taken down by setbacks and others simply view them as bumps in the road. I have had many setbacks. When I think of how I have reacted to them they were seemed huge at the time and merely experiences now. I think part of it is that we actually think others are paying attention to us when they are really wrapped up in themselves. They care, just not as much as we think. Its kind of a comforting thought and somewhat liberating versus the concern about our own "failures".

  2. Putting that note on the mirror is the best thing you can do for yourself. I wrote, in pretty large letters, another quote from that night: "failure is the event, not the person." The truth in that statement was overwhelming.

    So often we see failure as an identifying characteristic of ourselves when, in fact, it's a drop in a mighty-large compositional bucket of other things.

    We all fail. Self actualization is learning to fal fast, fail near people who can support you and learn from the failure so that you don't do it exactly the same way again!