How Can I Rejoice In Failure?

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Oh, boy. You’ve done it now. You’ve failed. Absolutely spectacularly failed. You want to die.

How will you go on? You’re afraid. You might make another mistake. You might be misunderstood. People might even laugh at you. There’s no point. You should give up, cut your losses now while you still have some face left to save.

Sound familiar? Anyone who’s failed at something (in other words, all of us) has gone through a similar thought process. We imagine failure to be the worst possible outcome. We strive for excellence, and instead we nose dive on the opposite end of the spectrum. We ask ourselves how we could have been so bad. We’re embarrassed because others are watching. Sometimes, we conclude that it’s best to just move on, that we should forget we ever tried. Why bother, we think, if we’re just going to screw up again?

We think failure is a negative thing. If I were to tell you it’s actually the opposite, that you should be grateful for and even delight in your mistakes, you might understandably ask, “How can I rejoice in failure?”

Failure is your greatest teacher.

We humans have this peculiar belief that we should be good at something on our first attempt. It’s as if we expect to be infused with the whole of human knowledge and experience from birth. But the reality is that any time we try something new, we’re babies all over again, stumbling around with stubborn and incapable limbs.

You weren’t born knowing how to read. You had to struggle with the alphabet, had to painstakingly memorize each symbol along with the sound it represents. You then had to follow along in countless picture books, sounding out the syllables in simple words, stuttering as you stumbled over sentences that might as well have been written in a foreign language. Only through years of trial and error did you eventually achieve fluency.

As the old cliché goes, you have to learn to crawl before you can learn to walk. Each mistake you make is a rung on the ladder of success, another object lesson that will refine your process over time. Your mistakes are precisely what teach you to excel at what you do.

Failure encourages you to be better.

Often, you catch yourself in a mistake and look backwards. “Why do I keep failing?” you ask. “When am I ever going to get this right?” But the problem is not that you’ve made a mistake, but that you’ve used it to gaze in the wrong direction.

Failure should inspire you to look forward. It should not be seen as a roadblock, keeping you penned in to an inferior mode of existence, but as a stepping stone on the way toward something better. Failure should be a source of hope, a way for you to gauge your success over time.

The person who avoids mistakes stagnates. He never grows because he refuses to push forward. Mistakes indicate that you’ve entered uncharted territory, that like the world’s greatest explorers, you have an opportunity to navigate something that was hitherto unknown.

Failure makes you humble.

It’s easy to be arrogant when you’re good at what you do. You’re often tempted to look down your nose at others who haven’t progressed as far as you, to regard with disdain the works of your “inferiors.”

How humbling it is then when you’re forced to confront your own mistakes. They ground you. They remind you where you came from, that you’re human and that you’re no better than anybody else.

Failure makes it easier to relate to others.

The more you embrace your mistakes, the more you realize you’re like everybody else. And the more you realize you’re like everybody else, the easier it is to relate to everybody else. You begin to realize you’re only part of the whole, a single cell in the collective organism of humanity. The more you identify with others, the more you can operate in sync with them. This makes the world better, for how much more perfect is a body when all of its parts strive for the benefit of the whole?

Don’t fear failure. Revel in it!

Failure is a prize. It is our mentor and our encourager. It is the journey by which we can achieve everything we’ve ever dreamed of, limited only by how much time we’re given and how far we’re willing to travel.

Embrace failure. Revel in it. Make mistakes and make them often. Your future self will thank you.

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When Will I Learn?

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My writing often follows a particular pattern. I start out eager and excited, charged up and ready to go. I have a ton of ideas, and I feel like nothing in the world can stop me. Then I sit down to write. At first, it’s great. I think that at long last, I’ve found peace and comfort in my craft, that at long last, I’ve conquered self-doubt and am no longer overly concerned about getting it one hundred percent correct the first time around.

Then a few weeks into the cycle, self-doubt returns, at first just a creeping vine that tickles the periphery of my mind, warning me to be more careful, that I don’t want to make too many mistakes, that if people are ever going to take me seriously as an author I have to be more conscious of what I’m doing. Caution soon gives way to concern, and before long concern gives way to self-criticism and despair. Before I know what’s happened, I find myself once more stuck in the mud, with a blog that hasn’t been updated for over a month and books and short stories that haven’t been touched for nearly as long.

When I finally find the courage to come back up for air and try again, I discover that some of those who were interested in what I was doing had left, not because they’d stopped supporting me but because I had given up, because I had shown them through my actions that I had nothing left to share. In giving in to my fear of failure, I had failed. I had prophesied my own doom, then unwittingly made it come true.

I’ve made this mistake countless times before. Each time, I promised myself that I would never make it again, that this time things would be different. And still, before long, I find myself here once more.

When will I ever learn?

It’s okay to make mistakes.

It really is. Everyone makes them. That’s part of what it is to be human. The only way not to make mistakes is to sit in a dark corner of your room alone and do nothing. If you want to put yourself out there, if you want to connect with other people, if you want to change the world, you’re going to have to fail. Failure is a precursor to success, and you must be willing to face it daily if you’re ever to have a serious hope of making a difference.

But what if I make a bad impression?

Every time I tell myself it’s okay to make mistakes, this is the next doubt that enters my mind. What if others witness my failure? What will they think? Will they ever take me seriously again? The answer, I’ve discovered through experience, is that some will, and some won’t.

And that’s okay.

You’re not going to please everybody. Some people will love what you do, and others will hate it. Some will notice your mistakes, and others won’t. Some will support you in spite of them, and others will walk away.

Let them.

If somebody walks away from you because you made a mistake, then either they had unrealistic expectations or they were never very interested in what you were doing from the start. So why spend so much energy worrying about their opinion? Focus instead on doing what you love, what brings you joy and passion, on what gives meaning to your existence.

Don’t worry about what other people think. Those who resonate with your message will hear your authentic passion-infused voice and support you, and those who don’t don’t matter.

It’s really that simple.

And yet, it’s not…

The concept itself is easy enough to grasp. Do what you love and don’t let others get in your way. Be bold. Make mistakes. But when it’s time to actually put this philosophy into practice, most of us, myself included, fall flat on our faces. Every. Single. Time.

Self-doubt is a powerful force. It’s the demon that whispers in your head whether you’re awake or you’re asleep, that assaults you with softly-spoken assurances of failure and condemnation, that promises you the everlasting Hell of ridicule and humiliation should you even think of trying.

You must not listen to it.

Shun this evil force with all your strength, lest it hold you back from what you love for the rest of your Earthly life. Whenever you hear its voice, you must drown it out, not with shallow and vainglorious self-assurances of success, but with a realistically optimistic outlook rooted not in the opinions of others but in the fulfillment of your life’s purpose.

Each and every one of us has one, a reason for being, a mission to accomplish, and we can only achieve what we were created to do when we let go of our incessant need for approval and boldly step forward into the unknown.

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