Congratulations you’ve failed, now what?
“Hardship often prepares an ordinary person for an extraordinary destiny.”
– C.S. Lewis
fail·ure / noun: failure
- lack of success.”an economic policy that is doomed to failure”
- the omission of expected or required action.”their failure to comply with the basic rules”
- the action or state of not functioning.”symptoms of heart failure”
Failure is a bad thing right?
Failure in many contexts is a terrible thing, with potentially very negative impacts on people’s lives, relationships, careers, business, family and community.
Failure can have a long lasting and devastating impact with ramifications felt in some cases for whole generations. Example’s would be a failed business, global economic crisis, a marriage breakdown.
Naturally as a result people have a healthy fear of failure and will do whatever’s within their power to avoid it, given the alternative will generally have very negative impacts on them personally, those closest to them or wider community.
There are many ways that the negative associations with failure (not always) reinforced throughout our lives by family, friends, in school, at the workplace, through the media and our own fears.
Accepting that failure can be a very bad thing and something to be avoided at all costs, why would anyone suggest that it could be a good thing?
Failure can be a good thing, how?
In another context failure is an opportunity to learn, to grow, to develop a greater sense of understanding about capabilities and limitations (perceived or real), whether that is related to ourselves, our family, team, product, service, business model, theory, investment, etc.
As a child, assuming you’ve not experienced any major trauma and grow up within your average family environment (regardless of location) then typically you don’t fear what you don’t know, you don’t hold yourself back from attempting something just because you’ve never done it before and this contributes to how you form an opinion about failure.
Whether it’s taking your first steps, learning to ride a bike, trying to pass your exams, taking a driving test, interviewing for a job, trying out your cheesy chat up lines, it’s likely that you’ve encountered failure (potentially lots of it) along the way.
When you try to take your first tentative steps as a baby, you migrate over time from a crawl, to standing against something, then ultimately in a very wobbly and precarious fashion start to actually walk.
Unlikely you remember it but for those of you who have kids or know someone who has kids at this stage of development, even though you kept falling down, were not sure if it was possible to do, something inside of you kept driving you forward try again and again until you could. Part of this is hardwired and part of it was likely all of the positive reinforcement that you received from doting parents, aunts, uncles, grannies and grandads while learning to walk.
They were there to pick you up when you fell, kept giving you positive reinforcement regardless of how many times you failed and when you succeeded (or even partially succeeded) likely celebrated like their team had won the world cup and took lots of photos to document the occasion.
My point which you’ve likely guessed, is that a child is typically getting positive reinforcement when they succeed and lots of support when they fail, this encourages them to keep picking themselves off the ground and try again and again until they succeed.
By the same token, if a child touches something hot and burns their hand, catches their fingers in a door or gets a bump on the head, they typically learn from that experience (or repeated experiences) and adjust how they approach things in the future. They learn that it’s not a good idea to keep doing it because it hurts, they don’t like it, scares them or they get shouted at by concerned parents.
Somewhere between childhood and adulthood that sense of fearlessness can be negatively impacted in so many ways which may or may not be within your control through experience, the media, schooling, family situation, work, etc
We need to accept that we won’t always make the right decisions, that we’ll screw up royally sometimes – understanding that failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.
— Arianna Huffington
So what am I trying to say?
Some context, I fail all of the time, in fact I fail every day. I fail at home, I fail at work, I fail in my hopes and I fail in realising my dreams. After licking my wounds for a while I generally drag myself up and try again then again and again until I recover from, learn from, pivot, decide to stop or succeed.
When growing up, I thought I was stupid , was not very good at school, carried too much weight, was painfully introverted and struggled to figure out what I ultimately wanted to do in life while everyone else seemed to have it sorted. I did a year of college, left to find a jobs at a time in Ireland when they were not easy to come by including Airport car rental and ‘Would you like fries with that?’ before heading abroad to work in bars for a few years before coming back to Ireland.
I came back to Ireland to do a government backed FAS computer training course (MS Dos, Windows 3.1, Office, etc), got a job at a big American computer company (remember the cow spotted boxes) and finally found something that I was good at and could throw my passion behind. The recipe was simple, I worked hard at something I loved, was rewarded with opportunities to grow at a rapid rate versus traditional careers and for that I will forever be grateful to Gateway computers.
Since then while I’ve ended up doing a wide range of jobs and roles throughout my career, I can assure you that I’ve had many failures along the way. Failed projects, failed interviews, failed presentations, failed products, failed working relationships, etc but equally from the embers of those failures have risen some great personal and professional learning opportunities.
Failure is relative
Failure to open your parachute can be terminal, failure to take out the bins can get you a scolding, failure to finish a work project can get you in trouble, failure in a relationship can mean the end of that relationship, failing an exam may change the path you take, failure in business can ruin you financially, failure to drive carefully may lead to an accident, failure to learn from failure is guaranteed to lead to more failure.
Typically failure is recoverable
While it might seem like the worst thing in the world at the time, failure is generally recoverable but it might take the passing of time before you see that.
I fail every day, I fail with family, friends, work, projects and in hundreds of other ways. Over time I’m learning that failure while sometimes very painful at the time and might take a long time to get over is something that I have some level of control over and can learn from.
- If I blindly do what I did before, I will likely fail again.
- If I modify what I did before I may still fail or I may succeed.
- If I reflect on why I might have failed I’m more likely to succeed.
- Failure is an opportunity to learn, failure is not always a bad thing.
- Typically I can recover from failure, it may hurt, it may take time.
- There is no shame in admitting that you were wrong and asking for help.
But hey, what do I know, I probably failed to adequately proof read this post before posting it! …
Originally posted @Linkedin
Also by Niall O’Gorman
- Gorillas & unicorns, let’s get ready to fumble on the road to disruption
- Buy Now button technology firm ChannelSight raises €3.3 million to scale in Europe and US
- Congratulations you’ve failed, now what?
- When you tell me “it” can’t be done
- Lego, what is it good for? absolutely everything!
Header image: CC “Not Yet Another Failure” by Behrooz Nobakht
Image: CC “My First Steps” by Gustavo Devito
Image: CC “Grazed knee” by theirhistory
Image: CC “Batman and Superman” by Peter Lee
Image: “iPhone 5 ” source WeKnowMemes